(3.5 STARS) "The Secret Life of Words": Quiet and Poetic wit
Tsuyoshi | Kyoto, Japan | 04/15/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
""The Secret Life of Words" is directed by Isabel Coixet ("My Life without Me"). In this quiet film Sarah Polley is Hanna silently working at a factory, keeping to herself in her life. One day her boss tells her to take a vacation even though Hanna doesn't seem to enjoy the idea. Still she travels to a seaside town, where she finds nothing to do. While having a lunch at a local Chinese restaurant, however, she hears about Josef (Tim Robbins), severely burnt victim of a fire at an offshore oil rig.
Hanna volunteers to nurse him and flies to the isolated site where not many things happen. There Hanna cares for Josef, who cannot see her face, wearing a bandage over his eyes because of injury. Josef keeps talking to Hanna, asking her questions while telling her a few things about him. As the film slowly goes on, Hanna, not the most sociable nurse in the world, still starts to reveal her past, which is related to the events that happened in her native country years ago.
Supporting actors include Javier Cámara, Steven Mackintosh, Eddie Marsan, Daniel Mays and Julie Christie, plus cameo of Leonor Watling. Though her screen time is short, Julie Christie is wonderful as Inge who cares for Hanna. (Inge's character is based on the real-life person Denmark-born Dr. Inge Genefke of IRCT.) But the film virtually belongs to the two leading actors, Sarah Polley and Tim Robbins.
Not many "actions" happen during the film which heavily depends on the words the characters speak. Some may think the film's pace is too slow and its story boring while others may find the understated tone essential to the spiritual changes that main characters Hanna and Josef undergo. The poetical and slightly surreal quality of the film (opening and ending voiceovers, for example) will either attract or puzzle viewers.
Sarah Polley's Hanna uses English with a strong accent. Her acting is fantastic as always, but I thought Canadian-born Sarah Polley may not be the best choice for the role of Hanna, whose nationality plays an important part in the film. And probably the character of Josef needs to be more substantial for the relations between them to develop fully to the extent the film's last chapter shows to us.
In "The Secret Life of Words" the "actions" have already happened before the film starts. You slowly come to know the nature of the actions or secrets through the words Hanna and Josef speak. Despite its overlong running time, I liked the film for its quietness and subdued approach, but some may not love the film for the very same reason."
Silence as a Protection for Facing Past Horrors
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 05/13/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It is always a joy to find a DVD in the videostore that is completely an unknown entity, only to discover upon viewing it that it is a little masterpiece of cinematic art. Such is the case with THE SECRET LIFE OF WORDS, and having seen the film now raises the question of how it went unnoticed in the theater release. Though touted on the cover as an 'Almodóvar film', in reality it's connection to the genius lies in the fact that both Pedro and his brother Agustín Almodóvar were executive producers: the film was written and directed by Spanish artist Isabel Coixet (Paris, je t'aime, Invisibles, My Life Without Me). It is a minimalist statement about the indomitable human spirit, a story that slowly unwinds to reveal some of the most terrifying aspects of trauma of war and guilt and shame ever written.
Hanna (Sarah Polley, in a phenomenal performance) is a deaf, silent reclusive young woman working as a line operator in a factory, so married to her meaningless job that her boss insists she take a vacation she deserves. Hanna does as she's told, and journeys to a seaside spot where she hears about a man on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean who is severely burned and needs a nurse. Hanna quietly takes the job, is flown by the doctor (Steven Mackintosh) to the isolated oil rig, populated with only a few men - cook Simon (Javier Cámara of 'Hable con ella', 'La Mala educación, 'Lucía y el sexo' etc), oceanographer and workers (Eddie Marsan, Daniel Mays, Dean Lennox Kelly, Danny Cunningham, Emmanuel Idowu) and a captain (Steven Mackintosh), and meets her patient Josef (Tim Robbins) who is temporarily blinded from burns to his corneas, and severely burned on his limbs.
Josef seeks to discover information from Hanna, but Hanna shares nothing about herself, spending her time dressing Josef's wounds, feeding him and tending to his needs. He slowly reveals his painful past to her (he was burned in an accident in which his best friend was burned to death, the friend whose wife had become Josef's lover!). Hanna is treated well by the few men on the isolated rig and learns to eat the exotic foods prepared by Simon, becoming friends with the crew, though at a distance, and gradually Hanna speaks with Josef about herself. In a painful confessional Hanna reveals that she is Bosnian and a survivor of the Balkan war, a hideous time when she and her close friend were captured, tortured and raped, leaving Hanna with physical as well as psychic scars and an enormous feeling of shame that her friend died and she survived. This knowledge bonds Hanna and Josef, but by this point it is time for Josef to be medevaced to a hospital onshore and the two part company. After some time has passed and Josef has recovered, he begins his search for Hanna and the journey and its finale serve as a touching end to the story.
The cast is uniformly brilliant, including a small role of Hanna's therapist played convincingly by Julie Christie. The metaphors the tale offers are many, but the most moving is an examination of how the human mind deals with survival and shame after trauma. Director Isabel Coixet draws such subtle performances from the entire cast in this very small film, proving she is one of the more important artists in film making today. Very Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, May 07
O. Brown | Twopeas, WA | 05/23/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Secret Life of Words" is a slow-paced movie telling the story of a young woman who takes care of a burn victim. The young woman, Hanna, is a torture victim. The film show the slow development of intimacy between her and her patient. It explores themes subtley and beautifully and unconventionally.
If you are interested in being entertained, you may not enjoy this movie. If you want to be moved, and touched, and to have an unforgettable film experience, you will not be unsatisfied.
This is not a conventional movie, and those who wish for a quick pace and obvious themes will be disappointed. Those who are content to process and think while a theme is developed, and who are open for a different sort of movie will be pleased.
The acting in this movie is incredible, from Tim Robbins' leading role, to Julie Christie, and Sarah Polley. I had rented the movie, and immediately purchased it after viewing it once to keep and to view again and again.
Highly recommended for the thoughtful moviegoer.