There's a bold bit of linkage between the historical and the personal in A Secret, Claude Miller's adaptation of Philippe Grimbert's autobiographical novel about growing up in a French Jewish family in the decades after World War II. The film is narrated by Mattieu Amalric, speaking as an adult looking back on his childhood with his attractive, athletic, aristocratic parents Cécile de France and Patrick Bruel. Amalric describes how he had an imaginary brother that his parents knew nothing about, and how in his head he'd built his parents up as the heroes of a romantic epic—with him being their happy ending. While Amalric is reminiscing, Miller cuts to a montage of Nazi rallies. The message: Just as the Nazis concocted the myth of Aryan supremacy to excuse their nefarious rise, so Amalric's family ignores its ghosts to justify a life of privilege.
A Secret jumps back and forth between the '80s, the '60s, and the '40s, and the decade-hopping can be a little confusing at first, though it straightens out for a long stretch in the middle, when the son hears his family's real story. The bulk of the movie takes place in the '40s, after Bruel meets de France, on the same day that he marries her sister-in-law, Ludivine Sagnier. Uncontrollably attracted to the blonde swimmer/model de France, Bruel makes a series of choices that betray his family and his people—choices that ultimately lead to a better life for the story's narrator.
As the title implies, A Secret is a movie about how some people cope with the lies and cover-ups that form the basis of their lives. There are scenes and images throughout that sting: A schoolboy cracks jokes during a screening of Night And Fog, a trip to the country by train recalls the stories of Jews being trucked to concentration camps, Bruel urges his friends and family to disguise their ethnic identity for the sake of business when the Germans arrive, and so on. Sometimes Miller hits these points too hard, but more often than not, A Secret is suitably tense, sad, and deeply poignant as it moves toward an epilogue exploring the idea that everything rots and decays, no mater how well-maintained. The movie sums itself up well with a framing image of a young boy gazing at himself in a dirty mirror, trying to take his own measure through the muck.