Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A world that's nice to visit, but not live in

What's left of the Fox Movie Channel is showing the movie Secret World tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM. I've suggested before, in conjunction with movies like Village of the Damned, that if you have a great story, it can overcome a lot of low budget problems. Secret World is the opposite: a movie that's lovely to look at with great location photography, but a story that's ultimately quite empty.

Jean-François Maurin plays François, a young boy living in a big manor house someplace in a relatively isolated rural area of France. (Unfortunately, IMDb doesn't have any information about the filming locations, since the house, although in need of a good paint job, is otherwise lovely.) The bad news for François is that he lives with his uncle Philippe (Pierre Zimmer) and aunt Florence (Giselle Pascal), since his parents were recently killed in a car crash. There don't seem to be any other children around, at least, not as far as the adults can see. François likes to go off to what looks like an abandoned open-pit quarrying operation where a lake has filled in the big hole; here he meets other children and fills him in on the details of his rich fantasy life, details that are mostly fabrications.

Philippe was a pilot in the French air corps that operated out of the UK, so he speaks English and has a good English friend, although he doesn't get to visit the friend since the friend lives up in Manchester and his "business" only takes him to London. Still, the friend has a daughter Wendy (Jacqueline Bisset), who has decided to come for a visit. You can probably guess why she's really coming. Philippe and Florence have an adult son Olivier (Marc Porel) who comes to visit from time to time, and unsurprisingly, he develops an immediate romantic attraction to Wendy. Who wouldn't be attracted to a young Jacqueline Bisset? Even if the director for some bizarre reason decided to give Bisset a terribly unflattering blonde dye job. She, of course, has no attraction for him. Wendy, for her part, takes an interest in François of the sort that an adult cousin who likes kids might take in one of their much younger cousins.

And that's about all that happens. It's a shame, because the basic story idea isn't a bad one. In fact, when I first sat down to watch the movie I thought I might get something reminiscent of The Fallen Idol. But Secret World isn't like that at all. Olivier figures out that Dad is having an affair with Wendy; Mom never seems to figure that out; beyond that none of the characters seem to develop except for François, who finally overcomes his fear of riding in a car.

The other reason it's a shame is because the cinematography is so lovely. In addition to the old manor house, which is approached by a tree-lined lane, the characters spend a day in a village, which looks much more realistic than the whitewashed settings of The Young Girls of Rochefort. The village itself is nice to look at in a run-down way, although it's probably not the sort of place you'd want to live in. There are also ruins on a hilltop overlooking the village, and those too are beautiful to look at. Ultimately, Secret World is a well-filmed movie that falls flat because the story never quite works out.

As far as I know, Secret World is not available on DVD.

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