[Film Review] The Secret Son (1979)

The Secret Son poster.jpg

English Title: The Secret Son
Original Title: L’enfant secret
Year: 1979
Country: France
Language: French
Genre: Drama
Director/Writer: Philippe Garrel
Music: Faton Cahen
Cinematography: Pascal Laperrousaz
Anne Wiazemsky
Henri de Maublanc
Xuan Lindenmeyer
Cécile Le Bailly
Elli Medeiros
Eliane Roy
Rating: 6.4/10

It is never to late to enroll in the Philippe Garrel school, a SIFF screening of his under-seen juvenilia THE SECRET SON, made when he was 31, premiered in 1979 but only officially released in 1982, this Black-and-White curio stars Godard muse Anne Wiazemsky as a single mother Elie, who strikes a relationship with Jean-Bapiste (de Maublanc), a young filmmaker.

The story is played out in four chapters: Caesarian Section, The Last Warrior, The Serpent’s Closed Circle and Un-fairy Forests, and nominally, the titular son refers to Swann (Lundenmeyer), Elie’s illegitimate son with an actor, who refuses to initiate his parental role, and has long been out of the picture. Tentative interactions take place in intimate surroundings (mostly indoors), but incoherence is pervading every nook and cranny here, Garrel offers no access to the pair’s inner states on top of their laconic wording and enigmatic, brooding miens, preponderantly set on automatic pilot.

Garrel punctuates the film’s desultory narrative and experimental complexion with static, protracted long takes, perversely resist a viewer’s wonted habit, to a frequently wearing effect. That said, THE SECRET SON visualizes a disarming and poetic rhythm with its vintage, grained quality, and a deceptively veiled insouciance, through many a loosely-connected plot, may it be Jean-Bapiste’s electric shock therapy, Elie’s drug addiction or bereavement, a moody deconstruction of our species’ ever-uncomprehending psychology.

It must be an acquired taste to savor Garrel’s free-associative, intelligent, yet beguilingly evasive modus operandi, and THE SECRET SON might be less an apposite open sesame than a piquant amuse-gueule, but at the end of the day, Faton Cahen’s euphonious piano cadenza alone is worth audience’s while.

companion pieces: Claude Lelouch’s A MAN AND A WOMAN (1966, 8.7/10); Jean-Luc Godard’s MASCULIN FEMININ (1966, 6.9/10).


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