(I’m currently cleaning out my DVR! It’s going to take forever but I take like 20 capsules of Dexedrine a day so I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to stay awake until I’ve watched everything. Anyway, I recorded the 1969 film, Secret World, off of FXM on February 1st.)
Poor Francois (Jean-Francois Vlerick)! This eleven year-old has already experienced more tragedy than most people will have to deal with in a lifetime. He was recently in a car accident, one that resulted in him being pinned underneath his mother’s body for several hours. He now lives with his grandparents (Pierre Zimmer and Giselle Pascal) on their beautiful estate. It’s a lonely life. Francois spends most his time with his pet rabbit or, at least, he does until Wendy Sinclair (Jacqueline Bisset) shows up.
Wendy used to be his grandfather’s mistress. She may still be. The film is deliberately ambiguous about the current state of their relationship. Grandma, of course, is not happy to see her. Francois, on the other hand, becomes obsessed with her, watching her while she sleeps and even clipping off a lock of her hair. For her part, Wendy good-naturedly tolerates Francois and his attention.
Then Olivier (Marc Morel) shows up. Olivier is Francois’s uncle, a handsome and wealthy rogue. The attraction between Olivier and Wendy is obvious, leading to both Francois and his grandfather growing jealous. With all three of the men in love with Wendy, she eventually does have sex with one of them but the film deliberately declines to reveal whether she’s with Olivier or the grandfather. (We only see a man’s hand and that man is wearing a glove as he approaches the naked Wendy.)
Secret World is a creepy little French movie, one of the many movies from the late 60s that featured boys and men lusting after Jacqueline Bisset. Almost everything about this movie screams 1969, from the fashion to the cars to the oddly pretentious tone of the entire film. Naturally, there’s the occasional jump cut and a few unnecessary close-ups. There are hints of psychedelia in the shots where the sun shines over Olivier’s shoulder. It even has a rather melancholy and ambiguous ending. It’s a frequently gorgeous film, full of haunting shots of the French countryside.
And yet, the film adds up to almost nothing. The movie was obviously trying to be a bittersweet coming-of-age story but it doesn’t work because the characters, as written, are almost all ciphers. Francois is weird when we first meet him and he’s weird when we see him for the last time. He’s one of those kids who is either going to grow up to be a writer or a serial killer. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t seem to know which is true.
At first, I was expecting Secret World to turn out to be a horror film, mostly because little Francois was so creepy with the way that he was always staring at Wendy. I’ve been stared at like that and it made my skin crawl. As soon as Francois started wandering around with the scissors, I was like, “Merde! Everyone in that château is about learn that there are worse things in the world than just ennui!” But no, Secret World never followed up on any of those implications. Instead, it just became a series of pretty and rather empty images. There’s a lot of beauty but not much depth to be found in Secret World.