A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
"Secret Things" is a rare item these days: An erotic film made well enough to keep us interested. It's about beautiful people, has a lot of nudity, and the sex is as explicit as possible this side of porno. If you enjoyed "Emmanuelle," you will think this is better. And, like Bertolucci's more considerable film "The Dreamers," it will remind you of the days when movies dealt as cheerfully with sex as they do today with action. Of course it is French.
What is amazing is how seriously the French take it. I learn from Film Journal International that "Secret Things" was named Film of the Year by Cahiers du Cinema, the magazine that brought Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol and Rohmer into the world, and became the bible of the auteur theory. But then Cahiers has long been famous for jolting us out of our complacency by advocating the outrageous.
The movie is an erotic thriller that opens with a woman alone on a sofa, doing what such women do on such sofas in such movies. The camera slowly draws back to reveal the location: A strip club. We hear the voice of the narrator, Sandrine (Sabrina Seyvecou), who is a bartender in the club and new to this world; she needed the job. When she seems reluctant to have sex with the customers, the performer, named Nathalie (Coralie Revel) tells her that is her right, and they are both fired.
Sandrine cannot go to her flat because she is behind on the rent. Nathalie invites her to spend the night with her. You see how these situations develop in erotic fiction. They have a tete-a-tete, and vice versa. We hear frank, revealing and well-written dialogue about their sexual feelings. Nathalie is a realist about sex, she says. When it comes to pleasure, she is more interested in herself than in her partners, who are non-participants in the erotic theater of her mind. What turns her on is being watched by strangers, and although Sandrine is shocked at first, in no time at all they are doing things in a Metro station that would get you arrested if you were not in a movie.