Secret Things (Choses secrètes)


Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews Robin Clifford 
Secret Things (Choses secrètes)
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews Laura Clifford 
Streetwise Parisian exotic dancer Nathalie (Coralie Revel) and naïve bartender Sandrine (Sabrina Seyvecou) are sexy, out of work and broke. Together, they come to understand their allure to the opposite sex and set out to better their social standing, using sensual pleasure to climb the corporate ladder in “Secret Things.”

Robin:
You know you’re in for an erotic thriller from the opening moments of “Secret Things” when, like a voyeur, you find yourself watching a beautiful and naked young woman masturbating. The scene shifts as she gets up and struts sensuously toward what we find to be a Parisian cabaret audience. One of those watching Nathalie is Sandrine, working behind the bar. As the club clears out, the boss demands that Sandrine “service” one of his clients. When she refuses, at Nathalie’s urging, they are both fired and, literally, tossed onto the street.

Without a job, Sandrine cannot pay her rent so Nathalie invites the young woman to stay with her. This is part one of this three part movie as Nathalie awakens Sandrine’s sexuality with her erotic instructions on self-fulfillment through masturbation. The pair is penniless but Nathalie has a brilliant idea: use their sexual “gifts” for their own advancement.

This begins part two as Nathalie and Sandrine take low level jobs in a large bank. They insinuate themselves up through the layers of the bank’s male hierarchy, using their sexual wiles to advance their jobs. Soon, Sandrine comes to the attention of high-ranking bank director Monsieur Delacroix (Roger Mirmont) and the sexy young woman seduces the older man. She plays head games with her boss/lover and uses her body to force him to do her will. But, she and Nathalie have their eyes set on higher stakes – the scion of the bank’s CEO, Christophe Barnay (Fabrice Deville).

Part three of “Secret Things” takes a darker turn as Sandrine and Nathalie solidify their hold on Delacroix and, soon, the two women together bed the bewildered bank manager. Their tryst comes under the scrutiny of Christophe who, at first, appears titillated by the threesome. That is, until he summarily fires Delacroix for his sexual indiscretion. The cold and calculating Barnay then proceeds to turn the tables on the ambitious women and soon plays them off each other, getting exactly what he wants but giving very little in return.

“Secret Things” is about a number of things, some which work quite well and others only so-so. The frank sexual nature of the film comes out right from the start with Nathalie’s provocative stage act. The story takes on a teacher/student tone as the experienced exotic dancer shows her new friend the ropes about sex and the female body. Together, they explore the liberation of their sexy personae and realize that it is a potent weapon in the manipulation of men. When they formulate their plan for success in the business world, things take a more serious tone. Sex in the business place becomes the story’s main topic as Sandrine, initially, accepts the flirtatious advances from one of the bank’s middle managers, Robert Cadene (Olivier Soler). She uses him to strengthen her “skills” in manipulating the opposite sex and dumps him in favor of Delacroix. She and Nathalie aren’t prepared, though, for Christophe’s own manipulations.

“Secret Things” is definitely erotic and will appeal to prurient interests with its soft core pornography. But there is also the tale of ambition as Sandrine and Nathalie use their sensuality as a weapon in their advance up the corporate ladder. The two more than meet their match with Christophe, a man who knows how to use his wealth and power to get what he wants, even using Sandrine as a buffer for his incestuous feelings for his sister.

The film doesn’t keep the sensual pleasures in the forefront as, say, the “Emmanuelle” movies. Instead, it shifts its sights in favor of corporate intrigue and ambition on different levels. When the women take on Christophe, they mistake his quiet observation as acquiescence to their plans but are woefully mistaken. The man is cold, calculating and without moral fear.

The acting is adequate with Revel and Seyvecou filling the bill as young, attractive, ambitious women – and, did I mention sexy? Roger Mirmont garners the most sympathy as Delacroix, a man who falls headlong for the attentions of these beautiful women, to disastrous effect. Fabrice Deville, looking like a male fashion model, could be considered too vague in the character of Christophe. But, director Jean-Claude Brisseau uses this to make the character ambiguous and unfathomable.

“Secret Things” isn’t a great film but it is erotic and has a decent story of ambition and sexual intrigue that should stir many a libido. I give it a B-.

Laura:
Sex show worker Nathalie (Coralie Revel) supports bartender Sandrine's (Sabrina Seyvecou, "He Loves Me...He Loves Me Not") refusal to service a customer for money and they're both kicked out of the club.  Nathalie teaches Sandrine the joys of masturbation with an audience, then engages her in a plot to get jobs in a Parisian firm and target the top men for sexual manipulation in writer/director Jean-Claude Brisseau's ("White Wedding/Noce blanche") "Secret Things."

I'm a novice to the films of French bad boy Brisseau, but this entry makes me want to see more. This soft core porn version of "A Company of Men" in reverse engages throughout, never taking the expected path, although its loopy last act plays like a Sidney Sheldon novel influenced by Mailer's "Ancient Evenings" with Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut" orgy as its centerpiece.

Brisseau titillates the viewer by opening with a nude woman artistically writhing about a polished wooden floor, before the camera pulls back to reveal that she's performing at a crowded club. Just when we wonder how much farther he can milk Nathalie and Sandrine's masturbatory hijinx, the sex and class warfare part of the story kicks in with the director building psychological suspense.  Sandrine proves a quick learner who captures the attention of firm cofounder Delacroix (Roger Mirmont).  With Nathalie pulling strings in the background, Sandrine has soon replaced Delacroix's private secretary.  She seduces the married man, but Nathalie and Sandrine both desire the cruel and handsome son of firm owner Barnay.  The duo concoct Delacroix's downfall to hook Christophe Barnay (Fabrice Deville), but he proves, as warned, a formidable adversary.  Nathalie, who has fallen in love in spite of herself, is cruelly tossed aside while Sandrine is offered marriage as a sham to satisfy his father's image of a CEO and shield his incestuous relationship with sister Charlotte (Blandine Bury).

Coralie Revel has the lion's share of screen time as the innocent transformed.  She maintains a delicate balance between aggressive manipulation and human empathy, professional office worker and sexual siren.  The stunning Seyvecou has a more mysterious character arc, beginning with glittering toughness then becoming undone by her own mark before rebounding to push her protege across the finish line.  The film's most sympathetic character is the victimized Delacroix, made likable and sexy by older man Mirmont.  Fabrice Deville is his polar opposite, as shallow as a cover boy.  Deville's lack of acting talent would be a liability were it not for his character's cold core.

Brisseau's movie plays like an oddly connected trilogy, each segment filmed like a different genre, from the soft core art house of "Emmanuelle" to the psychological power games of "Company of Men" to the cheesy dramatics of late night Cinemax S&M.  This schizophrenic film does not shy away from female sexuality, yet fades to black for a romantic kiss.  Its object of female desire is warped by his mother's death and inspires jilted lovers to set themselves on fire!  "Secret Things" is a cinematic joy ride, an outrageous jaw dropper that explores serious themes under the guise of gaudy entertainment.

B

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