Slow moving but compelling psychological thriller
Doug Anderson | Miami Beach, Florida United States | 07/31/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Rivette is not known for his brevity, not in recent years anyway. His films take patience but their momentum builds almost indiscernably to a final effect which is powerful and ultimately your pateince and attentiveness is rewarded. Rivette films are for true lovers of French films as his films meditate on life like paintings meditate on life. Action, there is barely any. This film has been referred to as a thriller and the picture on the front cover of the DVD would lead you to believe this is a thriller but that is kind of misleading as what really is being explored here is the psychological naunces of one character in particular and that character is played by Bonnaire. There is a central mystery which is the "secret" of the story but the "secret" remains so unitil the very end. And though the secret is surprising it is somewhat inconsequential. For the real power of the film is in the cumulative effect of all those scenes where Bonnaire has no idea what is driving her and making her act. It is this strange aesthetic which explains the films appeal which is great. Rivette lingers on Bonnaire who often is doing very little but riding a train or looking out a window or looking at a painting or walking through a house but there is a power in the way Rivette frames his shots. He makes very painterly compositions and his characters occupy these compositions one frame at a time, unable to see the larger picture, unable to see or judge their own actions with any authority. Insight, when it comes, comes too late. It is a film which you will watch and lose maybe a little patience with at times but its spell is a strong one and the more you think on it the more you begin to appreciate just how well the picture does what it does. Excellent film for meditative viewers who like to think while they watch."
Rivette's third in the nineties
Doug Anderson | 01/19/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've seen five Rivette features from the 90's, and along with La Belle Noiseuse and Up/Down/Fragile, I think this one ranks along side his best work--that from the seventies and late sixties. It is a serious movie, made in a time when I've come to expect more of his lighter side all to often (but what a great light side!). In Secret Defense ("Top Secret" in french) we get hints at what his great conspiracy movies of the seventies might be like (OUT 1 and OUT 1: Spectre), as with this movie the level of uncertainty--real uncertainty, not just a playful, feigned kind of uncertainty--is phenomenally powerful. What would the thriller genre be like if the levels of one's knowledge and comfort as a viewer are reduced to those levels which we get in Secret Defense--not too high, or a tad above "just enough?" Well, for me, this movie shows how you don't need fast-paced action or the commotion of a roller-coaster ride to feel at the edge of your seat. And it goes much farther: this ride can have long-term after effects (even if it is not on the level of the work in the 70's). In the domain of fictional reality--fiction with the weight of reality--Rivette remains the master."
William Mitchell | Austin, TX United States | 08/27/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Although this DVD of the movie is touted as widescreen, it is not anamorphic. The omission of anamorphic in the description of the format is accurate, not an oversight. So you do not get the quality improvement you might expect from a widescreen film when viewed on a widescreen television. Instead, to get the proportion right, you have to tell your DVD player that the TV is 4:3, then expand the TV picture to fill the screen."
Tight thriller updating the Electra myth...
cnomad | USA | 07/29/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Watch the mesmerizing, understated and finely nuanced portrayal by Sandrine Bonnaire of contemporary research biologist Sylvie Rousseau who gets entangled in a dangerous web of events--this alone is worth the purchase price. A modern update of the myth of Electra, director Rivette and his superb actors Bonnaire as well as Jerzy Radiwilowicz (as Sylvie's nemesis, Walser, ex-aide of her deceased father and now head of the high-tech weapons-manufacturing firm) have created a taut psychological thriller that unfolds in a measured manner as horrible secrets are slowly divulged. You'll be riveted to the screen with this one, but you must pay close attention: the beauty and marvel of "Secret Defense" reside in the many important details Rivette chooses to include in it. Powerful ending, too. Finally, Sylvie must be one of the most accurate representations of a real lab researcher on the non-documentary screen."