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Graphic couplings provide backdrop for shrewd drama on interpersonal power struggles

“Secret Things” is a titillating drama about two women who use their “guts and asses” in an attempt to gain power and privilege over men. Loaded with both steamy lesbian and “ménage a trios” sex scenes as well as loquacious characters, writer/director Jean-Claude Brisseau’s film is like a fascinating cross between the sleazy Zalman King (“Red Shoe Diaries”) and the smart Eric Rohmer.

The film opens with the unforgettable image of Nathalie (Coralie Revel), writhing nude and masturbating in front of a crowd of people in a strip club. There is a bird and a ghost-like vision in her act and, for a moment, the film threatens to become a pretentious European art film. However, it is much savvier than that.

After the performance, Sandrine (Sabrina Seyvecou), a shy bartender at the club, befriends Nathalie, simply because she wants to learn more about “crossing the forbidden line” of being sexually comfortable in public. Soon, the women are sitting nude under their raincoats in outdoor cafes and, after removing their bras in a metro station, are canoodling in the recesses of a subway tunnel.

Yet the film has much more on its mind than chronicling the sexploits of these two beautiful women. “Secret Things” is really about subverting the desires of men, and how women “at the bottom of the social scale” such as Nathalie and Sandrine can beat men at the games of money, sex, and power.

The pair hatch a plan. They will work their way into a company and use their sexual skills to humiliate men and get what they want. And sure enough, in no time at all, Sandrine is working for—and sleeping with—Mr. Delacroix (Roger Mirmont), an important executive at a major bank.

Despite this initial success, however, Sandrine and Nathalie really have their sights set on Christophe (Fabrice Deville), the firm’s handsome, high-powered boss. But Christophe has a reputation as a lady-killer—his abandonment is rumored to have caused more than one woman’s self-destruction.

The game of pretending begins, and as it does, “Secret Things” becomes quite intense, and wholly absorbing. Even if Nathalie and Sandrine swear not to get attached to their victims, viewers find this melodrama totally absorbing.

The explicit sex scenes are provocative––they contain lesbian sex, they involve Sandrine, Christophe, and Christophe’s sister, Charlotte (Blandine Bury), and there is an orgy sequence that makes “Eyes Wide Shut” look like a Disney production.

The eroticism, however, is not exploitative. Nathalie and Sandrine are making the point that as poor women, they are forced to use sex as a means of survival.

Emotions are another thing altogether. “Love is risk” one character says. These women are willing to suffer the consequences if their plans backfire. The point is that these are women in charge of their sexuality—however they choose to use it.

The filmmaker is clearly looking to raise the audience’s hackles. Not just porno for the raincoat brigade, this is a thoughtful, intelligent film about the manipulation of class and gender. It just happens to feature plenty of hot lesbian sex.

As shrewd as its concept is, “Secret Things” would not be successful were it not for the daring performances of its two attractive leads. Both Coralie Revel and Sabrina Seyvecou are exceptional, playing the sex scenes and dramatic moments with equal diligence. In support, Fabrice Deville and Roger Mirmont are terrific as the men who fall under the spell of these two alluring young women.

Ultimately, Brisseau’s film is as beguiling as its seductive heroines.

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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