The secret to viewing the French WWII and post-WWII period drama A Secret is to give the convoluted beginning a chance. Even if you have been afforded an advance summary of the plot, it is only after the first 20 minutes or so of the movie does the storyline's character development begin making sense and move the film towards a resolution.
It is only then that the seemingly delusional thinking of a Jewish boy named Francois (portrayed by Quentin Dubuis and ValentineVigourt at adolescent and early teen stages) turns out to be more rooted in truth than his parents Tania and Maxime - played Cécile De France and Patrick Bruel - want to deal with concerning their past. At that point the film's movement toward revealing the full extent of the secret begins to make sense.
The movie, which all takes place in France, begins in the 1950s; it then shifts to the dangerous period for Jews in the early 1940s' Nazi Germany occupation of France. It is then that the tragic story that ultimately brought Tania and Maxime together - and resulting in the birth of Francois. The Jewish boy finds all this out when a neighbor (played by Julie Depardieu) reveals to him the secret about his parents.
French filmmakers have long taken the cinematic staging of romance and the attendant passions - in both fidelity and infidelity - to the level of highest level of art form on screen. That French cinematic attribute continues with this film. As A Secret unfolds the story of Tania and Maxime and what took place before their union, the movie simmers with the strong undercurrents of how their passions were manifested as the substance of sexual healing to address the grief that could not be avoided in that wartime holocaust.
If the movie were carried only on the details of the secret, it may not have been enough. However the differing reactions of the other family members to the romance and lust against the backdrop of family tragedy give the movie a realism that validates it as art credibly imitating life, love and the natural ethical conflicts that are produced.
Based on a novel by Philippe Grimbert (published in the U.S. as Memory) and reworked as a screenplay by the movie's director Claude Philippe, the movie overcomes its early confusing character development and gains sounder footing the rest of the movie. In addition, the film jumps to the 1980 in black and white, showing an adult Francois (Mathieu Amalric) and his elderly father, both still grieving the truth of the secret.
Overall, the movie does what a good story is supposed to do - grasping you in its plot embrace until the last scene is done. With this film, the understanding is conveyed that affairs of the hearts have the power to produce tragic results while also making grief manageable and possibly all but forgotten.
The unrated movie contains sensuality and sexual inferences. The 110-minute film is in French and Yiddish with English subtitles.