Although its two leading performances are strong, the absence of clarity in plotting means The Secrets isn’t as successful as it truly had the potential to be.
Ania Bukstein stars as Noemi, the daughter of a prominent Rabbi whose greatest desire is to learn Torah and teach others, but whose gender means this is an unachievable goal. When her mother dies and her father arranges her marriage to a young Orthodox Rabbi she doesn’t like, Noemi asks to attend seminary school instead. When Noemi and another student Michel (Michal Shtamler) are asked to deliver groceries to a dying French woman (Fanny Ardant as Anouk), both will reassess what they believe in and become closer than either had imagined possible.
There is a degree of charm in the developing relationship between Noemi and Michel, although this will be hard to forsee after both characters are introduced – Noemi is so rigid as to be unappealing, while Michel is a dull stereotype of European arrogance. Thankfully neither remains constrained by their initial characteristics and both become far more sympathetic as the film continues.
The transition from exploration of Orthodox life to what the film eventually attempts to become, however, is only moderately successful. Ardant’s performance is fine, although her character seems only written to emphasise others’ storylines, and much of her dilemma remains unresolved. Given its prominence within the film, the remainder unfortunately feels somewhat uneven.
Supporting characters are often no more than caricatures, with Dana Ivgy (who was wonderful in 2004’s Or) especially suffering in an underdrawn role of limited substance. Adir Miller as Yanki on the other hand gets to have quite an impact while allowing the audience to smile along, in a role that may have otherwise seemed inconsequential.
In the end, The Secrets succeeds in becoming a reasonably moving love story set against a backdrop of Orthodox Judaism and sexual repression. Occasionally clunky transitions in character aside, the performances of the two leads are strong, and – although it slightly outlasts its welcome – the film is a satisfying experience. With a little more attention to detail, however, The Secrets may have been great.Rating: