Wednesday, February 26, 2014

In Secret

There's a surprising amount of blood coursing through the veins of "In Secret," director Charlie Stratton's film of the Émile Zola novel Thérѐse Raquin.

Elizabeth Olsen stars as Thérѐse, whom, at a young age, her adventurer father leaves with his sister (Jessica Lange) in the countryside before setting off for Africa. There, Olsen attends to Lange's sickly son, her cousin Camille (Tom Felton). When Felton lands a job as a clerk in Paris, Lange moves the family to the city, where (in a particularly ratty arrondissement) Lange opens a small fabric shop, and Olsen (now married - listlessly - to Felton) alternates between helping her out and gazing dreamily out the front window. One night, Camille brings home his childhood friend Laurent (Oscar Isaac), who turns out to work at the same firm. A powerful sexual attraction instantly passes between Thérѐse and Laurent, who are soon rendezvousing clandestinely whenever and wherever they can.

I won't reveal more of the plot, except to say that it's almost operatic in scope and intensity. Though their story unfolds in an age of repression, Thérѐse and Laurent are highly sexual people, and neither they nor the film act in half-measures. Some critics have suggested that Madame Raquin approaches the level of camp (with allusions to "Mommie Dearest"), but they're wrong. Stratton and Lange do a good job of grounding Madame in a mother's undying love for her son and never allowing her to devolve into spite and sadism. Felton and the always captivating Olsen also turn in solid performances, and Isaac, freed from the rictus clench of the twee "Inside Llewyn Davis," reveals a credible leading man (and a hot bod for an 1860s Parisian). "In Secret" is juicy and pulpy and entertaining throughout. It's worth seeing.

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