A sleek, enticing young woman twists with anticipation, exposed and undulating on a bed, to the sound and silhouette of a bird flapping its wings. Shadowy faces off to the side watch her movements like ghosts. As she explores herself to the point of climax, the faces transform into an audience at a strip club.
After witnessing her performance, calling Nathalie a stripper just doesn’t cut it, because she straddles the line between art and pornography as if she were the embodiment of desire. Like the film’s opening sequence, writer-director Jean-Claude Brisseau is able to hold the viewer within a state of fascination for almost the entirety of the film.
Sandrine, the club’s bartender, studies Nathalie with admiration, jealous of her ability to pleasure herself so freely in front of others and her power over the men hovering at her feet. When the club owner insists Sandrine service a customer in the back room, Nathalie comes to Sandrine’s protection and they both end up sore-assed, jobless on the sidewalk and bound together against men.
Brisseau has devised a femme fatale slant on former Detroiter Neil LaBute’s cynical In the Company of Men, beginning with a delicious dive into the world of sexual dares. As Sandrine and Nathalie, actresses Sabrina Seyvecou and Coralie Revel stir up a sizzling chemistry that will arouse any gender. As Nathalie, Revel takes Sandrine under her wing, indoctrinating her with sensual lessons, first under the sheets, then in dark public corners, eventually entering the unsuspecting business world with a survival plan to conquer key men with their dangerous talents.
Secret Things absorbs the collective spirit of Mulholland Drive, Eyes Wide Shut and Secretary, as Brisseau emblazons a destructive path of desire as power, desire as disease. But the film’s momentum is rocked as Christophe (Fabrice Deville) comes into the picture. Meant to be the epitome of macabre decadence, his artificially flavored philosophy — ”I am the death of it all, the birth of it all, word and memory, fortitude and mercy...” — causes the film to lose its taste towards the end with a contrived stew of death and orgasms.
Nonetheless, Nathalie and Sandrine’s adventures in eroticism will hypnotize the voyeur within, drawing you into its seductive web as its eager victim.
In French with English subtitles. Showing at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-263-2111.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].