Whilst Yuval Adler‘s The Secrets We Keep has quite a nasty temperament, it’s a testament to his and Ryan Covington‘s script that it never overindulges in its wince-worthy material.
Set in a post-WWII America where the horrors of Nazi camps and prisoner brutality are a distant though still painful memory, Maja (Noomi Rapace), a Romani prisoner who was subjected to torture, has rebuilt her life. Happily married to an American doctor, Lewis (Chris Messina), she has kept her past a secret in a further effort to remove it from her psyche.
The film is barely into its 97 minute running time when its narrative hook takes shape though, with the whistling of a familiar tune setting Maja off in a panic that instantly recalls her experiences within the Nazi labor camps. The whistling tune is courtesy of a passer-by (Joel Kinnaman) who bares a striking resemblance to the German soldier that brutalised her and murdered her younger sister; the film thankfully is more suggestive than overly graphic when showcasing the moments involving Maja at the aforementioned camp space.
Given the 15 years that have passed since her ordeal, and the fact that she still evidently has fragments of PTSD, Maja’s memory may not be the most reliable, and when she hastily assaults this man she believes is her attacker – he claims to be a man named Thomas – and holds him captive in her basement, the film successfully plays with our emotions as it’s just as convincing in her belief as it is in Thomas being the wrong man.
Whilst The Secrets We Keep is working with an investing story, however tried and true it may be, it’s very much the character dynamics that drive this forward, with Rapace dominating every frame she’s in. Her ability to mix vulnerability with a ferocious tenacity has long been a staple mentality she’s injected into her work, and here is no exception. As she seems to doubt her own memory of events throughout the film, Maja believes “Thomas” is the only person who can confirm what happened, and it’s in this anguish that Rapace truly thrives, never overdoing it for the sake of melodrama.
Messina is equally as untamed, his vigour matching Rapace’s throughout as he toes the line between wanting to keep her captive safe – you get the sense even he isn’t sure of his wife’s memory – and protect her from an act she may regret. Kinnaman is arguably the weakest link in what is essentially a three-person act – a tender Amy Seimetz has a brief role as Thomas’ concerned wife – though that really comes down to the fact that Rapace and Messina have been saddled with the meatier, more robust roles. Kinnaman displays a quietness, a passive state without appearing overly weak, but there’s an uncertainty to him that further fuels the suspicions of Maja, and by extension us as an audience.
Given the 1950’s setting of the film, Maja’s strength of character stands out even further as she hones an unconventionality that is strikingly opposed to the more strictly-defined roles of women during that era. Even before “Thomas” shakes her core, Rapace presents Maja as a woman who has had to fight for survival in all aspects of her life, and whilst initially it almost feels out of place for the film, it’s organic to the eventual narrative.
Though its thriller turn of mind lends the film a certain familiarity, it’s The Secrets We Keep‘s thought-provoking examination on the aftermath of violence that helps elevate it beyond genre expectation. Add to that another stellar turn from the always captivating Noomi Rapace, and this small film manages a larger-than-life personality that should hopefully be rewarded with audience interest.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Secrets We Keep will be screening at Palace Cinemas* for a limited season from September 17th 2020. It will then be available to rent via the Foxtel Store from October 21st.
*Palace Norton Street, Palace Verona, Palace Central, Palace Byron Bay, Palace James Street, Palace Barracks, Palace Electric Cinema & Palace Raine Square