Monday, October 4, 2010

Hidden Diary (2009)*****

The subtle intricacies of mother/daughter relationships are explored through the unveiling of family secrets in this delicate, brooding and thoroughly excellent film. When Audrey (Marina Hands), a 30-ish industrial designer, returns to her family’s home on France’s southwest coast for a brief impromptu visit, she creates a tense atmosphere as her parents (Catherine Deneuve and Michel Duchaussoy) are so absorbed with their own lives they have little time for her.

One morning, Audrey walks along the beach to the abandoned home of her long dead grandfather, and decides to encamp there for the remainder of her visit. Behind an old, mildewed cupboard Audrey finds a diary left by her grandmother, who walked out on her husband and children fifty years ago. Her name has been vilified by the family ever since, while the grandfather is remembered as virtually a saint for the many hardships he endured while raising Deneuve and her brother (Jean-Philippe Ecoffey) as a single parent.

As Audrey leafs through the yellowed and fragile pages she slowly discovers that her family’s version of events does not square perfectly with the facts, and that her emotionally distant mother has built her life as an aggrieved victim on a convenient, but false, narrative. Meanwhile, Audrey harbors a secret of her own; a secret that has driven her back to the town of her birth for reasons she doesn’t fully understand. But by carefully piecing together a true account of family history, Audrey seeks the strength and wisdom to cope with her own painful dilemma.

The film’s European title, Mères et filles (Mothers and Daughters) is a more accurate reflection of the central thesis. Hands and Deneuve share so much unresolved baggage they circle each other like jungle cats waiting to pounce. While their interactions are perfectly pleasant on the surface, the air between them is laced with unspoken tension and resentment, like the scent of ozone after a storm. Deneuve’s character has always  blamed others for her personal deficits, usually with the full encouragement of her weak and enabling husband, and her eyes register many years of real and imagined slights. But now she realizes that her daughter’s research into the diary is about to wipe away one of the emotional crutches that have supported her through life, and Deneuve responds with an extra measure of defensiveness.

In contrast to the emotional complexity of the story, Julie Lopes-Curval directs with a physical simplicity that makes the film starkly believable, but never larger than life. The diary segments are enacted as flashbacks, and while this would seem to be an awkward and trite construction, Lopes-Curval so cleverly and seamlessly integrates it into the main storyline that the film’s tone and pacing never suffers. And while Hidden Diary features few characters, the director is able to broaden the narrative palette by creating a sense of intimacy with the physical surroundings. That intimacy is at times almost too much to bear, as the creaky old houses, the relentless pounding surf and even tiny grains of beach sand are rendered as mute witnesses finally ready to spill their long held secrets.


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Paul van Yperen said...

Your headers become better and better.

Bunched Undies said...

They're becoming an obsession.

BTW, the next review will be a dutch film...hopefully posting tomorrow

Paul van Yperen said...

You are making me really nervous now. Be kind, please, we're a small country.

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