For those of us who were long suckered into The X Files (never as good when revisiting episodes as they seemed when they were new), we keep expecting David Duchovny to be capable of acting in a film. At some point we're all going to learn not to bother with anything he's in.
The Secret (Si j'etais toi, 2007) is a French film shot in English language by a Swiss director remaking the Japanese film Himitsu (Secret, 1999).
The original, though by no means a significant film, is eccentric, perverse, nicely acted, & in the three-hankie weepy moments really does move you to tears. It strives to be a real drama, though admittedly it's a tiny bit dumb.
At base it is about a mother (Kayoko Kishimoto) who can't get along with her sixteen year old daughter (Ryoko Hirosue), but comes to a new understanding of the girl by living her life for a short while. This "lesson" is framed in a supernatural context.
After a highway accident, only the daughter survives, but could be dying when the mother's soul transfers into daughter's body as the mom dies instead. She afterward copes with the discomfiture of now being the daughter of a man (Kaoru Kobayashi) to whom she was formerly a wife.
The father simultaneously copes with his own confused emotional state of protective father, & still wanting some remnant of the relationship he had with his wife, even if a-sexual, then finding he has less control over her than he had formerly, as physiologically she's still more rebellious teen than she is rejuvinated older woman.
The film develops this material with sensitivity, unlike the remake which is more focused on the temptation of incest, leaving a dirty taste in one's mouth over Duchovny's poor performance, transforming the dodgy discomfort of the original into outright incestuous desire.
In part the remake feels like an idiot watched all three versions of the assinine comedy Freaky Friday (1976, 1995, 2003) & said to himself, "Wow, that story should be retold done without the comedy." The Japanese script did have comedy in it, but the remake is stone-cold pokerfaced & unpleasant.
At the beginning of the tale, Duchovny & Lili Taylor play a syrupy sweet & lusty couple who seem to have the ideal relationship, although it right away struck me as creepy & cloying. There remain hints in the Englished script that the writer thinks there's something wrong with them too.
But overtly, it seems likely Duchovny's performance as a Stepford Husband was something we were supposed to believe was on the level, rather than his life as a dentist being pathetic & his horniness on returning home mere desparation, & his wife secretly unfulfilled by an awful life.
Also in early establishing sequences, their teenage daughter Samantha (Olivia Thirlby) is rebellious & appalling; nothing nuanced or subtle in that performance either, though the young actress will get better as the role transmutes.
Maddenly solicitous Mom & the hateful teenager head off for a mountain retreat hoping to bond, but get in a car accident in the snow. Mom wakes up in the hospital beside her comatose daughter, & before Mom dies, her mind & soul transfers to the comatose daughter.
The assumption (based on nothing) becomes that the daughter will eventually awaken & displace the mom's persona, but for the time being, lusty Dad has to come to terms with his daughter, who he at first thinks is so traumatized she's convincing herself she's her own mother, & so desparately wants to have sex with her dad.
Eagerness to screw her daddy/husband, as the first strategy of adjustment, never made sense. She otherwise wants to "live her daughters life" so it will still be there for her when Samantha wakes up. So it's never for a moment credible that mom, from her daughter's body, would want her daughter's body to be Doing It with daddy.
Fortunately he resists, but he remains a jealous "husband" instead of a protective dad while her raging hormones, unfulfilled by the attempt at incest, induces her to resort to affairs in her new peer group, teenagers.
The insane thing is that this film it so confused about itself. It has the tone of a family film but keeps brushing up against the most inconceivably sicko masturbation fantasies: If my wife was my daughter, would I screw my daughter. If I was my daughter, would I prefer sex with daddy or my daughter's boyfriends.
There are brief moments when the film hints at real meaning never developed: How to grieve for the loss of a wife when only her body is gone. Confrontation with a desire to live one's own life over again & make different choices (mom never pursued her own education because she got pregnant young) which means guilt that this leads inevitably to wanting the real Samantha must remain submerged. These subtler possibilities are buried under the whelter of incest innuendo.
After spending most of the time between struggling not to succumb incestuous sex, & doing drugs & unprotected sex with new teenage peers, the moving conclusion about the mother & daughter relationship just no longer fits the story. The understanding that arises at the end has nothing to do with the unintentionally creepy film through which we just suffered.
In the end the mother's persona prepares to be squelched as the real Samantha is nudging upward from her coma. "Mom" leaves a videotaped message of how she now totally understands her daughter, having become her.
When Samantha sees herself speaking to herself as her mom, the revived daughter just embraces all of it as though it were the most natural thing & even a happy ending. Always better to have your mother dead if she says she first understands you; always best to be dead if you understand your daughter.
The kid actor does a better job than Duchovny, so we have badly played dad, somewhat well played teen, & very well played mom. After Lili is out of the film, the film never regained any spark, though for about five seconds when mom appears to Samantha in a drug-induced hallucination, the film is good for those five seconds. Had the other two actors been up to the task the film might've worked, though it's hard to be sure.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl