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Andreas_N
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Secrets of the Heart (1997)
22. Jan 2006 at 05:31
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Some reviewers at imdb have claimed this movie to be uneventful - and they are right. I was not yet bored, but almost on the brink of it. What struck me most is the absence of any sort of dramatic and/or emotional climax. There is no final highlight, no real final denouement. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but here it was. Thus I cannot give the movie more than a 7, although it has lots of positive aspects to it. Let us look at them now.

Secrets of the Heart is a movie about individuals, about their daily struggles to survive and to find happiness, about their frailties and their sins. The two major themes I have detected are secrets and death, melted together in the social stratum of a lower class communal family in Spain in the early 1960s. The movie's protagonist is young Javi, a little boy. We see the world through his eyes mainly, in a naive and unaffected manner.

The theme of death is the strongest, very much linked to the theme of secrets. The death of Javi's father and the secrets his mother wants to hide from him and his brother represent the story's mysterious edge. Death and mysteries come up again when Javi and his friend Carlos want to find out about the secrets of a decayed mansion. Also the spider Javi observes in his uncle's cowshed symbolizes death, as we see it killing flies and other insects various times. So the story has indeed the capacity to provide some sort of exciting developments. It just does not fully use this capacity, and that is a pity.

The story rather focuses on a family portrayal. We get an insight look into the bleak and doleful existence of Javi's two aunts with all their imperfections and vices. The story of Javi's brother, his mother and his grandfather are presented similarly - subtle and somehow uneventful. Then again it is Javi's story, of how he grows up, how he influences and is influenced in return by the world and the individuals around him. He undergoes rites of passage and makes the story also a quest of finding out the truths about all the secrets and mysteries within his family in particular and of the world in general.

The story has its charm, but it did not exploit its full potential. It can be summarized as an authentic socio-cultural portrayal of family life, and as such it needs to be praised. However, there are too many subtle and uneventful sequences. I never felt the sort of emotional and moral attachment I normally expect from valuable movies dealing with sincere and genuine themes of life. Thus I was a bit disappointed. Those who like these sorts of cultural depictions into which you can interpret a lot and never become tired of finding new aspects by reflecting on the events will probably like it. I would have preferred some sort of real message running through the plot, some sort of dramatic climax or at least a higher pace in terms of developments.
  
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josephk
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Re: Secrets of the Heart (1997)
Reply #1 - 24. Jan 2006 at 21:21
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I have been dying to see this movie for ages. Can't find a copy of it anywhere.

Thanks for your review.

  
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josephk
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Re: Secrets of the Heart (1997)
Reply #2 - 29. Mar 2009 at 02:43
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Well, several years later, I finally saw this movie! It was the second movie shipped from my rental queue.

I initially gave the movie a 7-star rating after watching it last night. But re-reading Andreas' review of the film, I found myself disagreeing with it so strongly that I realized I liked the film more than thought I had, so I went back and changed my rating from a 7 to an 8.

Uneventful movie? Nothing could be further from the truth. I could list the major events that occur in this film, but I don't really want to spoil it for anyone who decides to watch it. The only reason someone would call this uneventful is that the events are portrayed in a quiet, restrained way compared to what we are usually fed from Hollywood films. In other words, they're not punctuated by a loud, obnoxious soundtrack or extended scenes of people yelling at each other then making up and running into each others arms. Instead, you get something a little bit closer to life.

It's true that secrets and death are major themes in the film, but there are plenty of other themes that are at least as important: love, sex, family, religion, and probably most importantly the tensions between (sometimes unconventional) private life and the (spoken or unspoken) criticism of others, whether they be family members or society in general.

The more I think about it, the more sophisticated I find the interlocking of themes in the film. This is an excellent coming-of-age film. And in spite of the rather poor image quality on the (Region 1) DVD, I recommend you search for it.

Also, check out my gallery for it (now in the gallery submissions forum, eventually will be moved to the database).
  
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cal-Q-L8
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Re: Secrets of the Heart (1997)
Reply #3 - 31. Mar 2009 at 12:16
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I find it intriguing that Europeans are often ultra keen on Hollywood style movies and less respectful of their own. I'm a huge fan of European films and I really like this one a lot. I agree with Joseph here, very much so. Subtlety in movies is a plus for me. Give me a choice between a big budget Hollywood flick and a movie like this one, and I'd choose this sort of film nearly every time.
  
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Andreas_N
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Re: Secrets of the Heart (1997)
Reply #4 - 31. Mar 2009 at 16:31
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Oh boy,

Now guys, I'm not someone who is completey addicted to Hollywood Blockbusters. Quite the opposite.

However, I completely dislike movies that show nothing but random events in a random socio-cultural context. When settling down to see a movie, I don't want to get a documentary, but something that tells a story, something that has a beginning and an ending - not something that runs from minute one to minute 100 without any major development character- or storywise. If I want to see a boy growing up in a dysfunctional environment, I can go outside and watch real people's daily routine... I don't want daily routine on the screen.

I'm rather going with the classic structure (introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, conclusion).

Movies that feature boys just running around, having funny/awkward/instructive/nasty or whatever experiences, without a developing story that heads towards something, don't get to me at all - those are the movies I find extraordinarily boring. Examples: Koktebel, Taliesin Jones, My Life as a Dog, Barnens , Hodder...

There needs to be a driving force, some emotional impetus, something that manages to maintain a level of anticipation, something that keeps you wondering and chained to the development of the action, anxious to find an answer to the questions a good movie poses before the final solution.

This is not a quesion of European or Hollywood-style movie. It's rather something each movie possesses on its own merit.

We might disagree on the "value" of such movies. I find them boring, so there's really nothing that would make me re-watch My Life as a Dog for example. You might argue it's true to life, realistic, anything but uneventful and so on. Fine. I ain't got a problem with that. But please be aware that I'm not drawn to the budget, the quality of the production, the soundtrack, the sepcial effects or something else - I simply have different benchmarks that serve me as indicators as to my perception of a movie's quality. Please respect that.
  
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Andreas_N
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Re: Secrets of the Heart (1997)
Reply #5 - 31. Mar 2009 at 16:42
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Okay, I will watch Secrets of the Heart a second time - haven't seen it since 2005 - and see if it there are more "events" in it than I spotted last time Wink
  
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josephk
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Re: Secrets of the Heart (1997)
Reply #6 - 31. Mar 2009 at 17:40
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Honestly, I wonder if we ever watched the same movie. There's nothing random about what happens in this movie. It's a pretty carefully structured (and even conventional) narrative. It follows a standard narrative story ark and character development. Let me spell it out for you.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

The movie opens with Javi and his brother living with their two aunts who never married. We find out later that they are living with them in order to go to a good school. One of the aunts is a bit of a prude. The other one is a bit looser and appears to be an alcoholic.

In the first scene, Javi is afraid to cross the river by walking on the rocks, like his older brother does. This establishes his character as a shy, scared and not very self-assertive boy. There's an abandoned house nearby and his brother told him people were killed in it and now their ghosts can be heard trying to tell their secrets to whoever will listen. There's a statue outside with something hidden underneath. When Javi asks his brother what's underneath it, he tells him the only way to find out is to look for himself.

They go visit their mother in their home village. There, we find out a little bit about their family history. Their father died some years ago. The mother now lives with her husband's brother (the kids' uncle) and father (the kids' grandpa). The room where their father died is shrouded in mystery and the mother doesn't want the kids going in there.

Javi's brother tells him that their father died sitting in an armchair in that room and that if he sits down in it, he'll be able to hear him telling his secret. Javi is afraid to do this, but one night he conquers his fear and goes to sit in the chair. He hears two voices - one male and one female - but soon discovers that they are the voices of his mother and uncle having sex.

Javi confronts his uncle about it the next day and it's revealed that everybody knows about this. Part of the reason the kids were sent away was not just to go to school but so that they wouldn't hear the village folk gossip about this. We also find out that the aunts (the mother's sisters) disapprove of this relationship.

They return to their aunts. Javi's brother gets expelled from school after boy squeals on him to the principal. The boy who squealed on him replaces him in the school play, of which Javi is the playing the lead character.

While trying to find out what why his brother was expelled, Javi finds a letter from home. His mother is pregnant.

Javi returns to the abandoned house. There's a man living there now. Javi finally dares to look underneath the statue. He finds a key and a heart (of symbolic importance, given the title of the film - secrets of the heart). He also finds out that his aunt and the man at the house are lovers. Later, she decides to go away with this man. After fighting with her sister, she leaves the house and Javi goes after her. He has to cross the river using the rocks, which he was afraid to do before. He conquers his fear - a major turning point for his character.

Meanwhile, there's a side-plot about his friend, whose mother teaches Javi dancing. She suffers abuse from her father, which eventually drives her to suicide. Through this tragic death, Javi comes to understand that his father's death was also a suicide.

When he returns home for his mother and uncle's wedding, he asks his grandfather about his father's suicide. All the secrets have now been revealed. Javi has gained a deeper understanding of death, love, sex, life, family, etc. He's more confident and assertive. He has grown up.

In the film's conclusion, he takes revenge on the boy who got his brother expelled from school, by locking him in a classroom minutes before the play. Since his brother is the only other kid who knows the part, he gets to perform in the play. At the end of the play, the teachers found the boy locked in the classroom. Javi knows he's going to be expelled, but it doesn't matter anymore. He accomplished what he set out to do.

-end spoilers-

So there you go. Nothing random about it at all. This is in fact a carefully structured and fairly conventional narrative. Calling this  "random scenes of boys running around" means that you've simply missed the point.

But I see that you also found "My Life as a Dog" boring, which is one of my all-time favourite movies. I guess if you thought that was all pointless and random as well, I won't be able to convince you otherwise.
« Last Edit: 31. Mar 2009 at 19:02 by josephk »  
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josephk
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Re: Secrets of the Heart (1997)
Reply #7 - 31. Mar 2009 at 19:00
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Quote:
Please respect that.


By the way, I respect that you see or appreciate films differently. But when I see someone criticizing a movie as being "random" or "uneventful," when clearly that's not the case, I think it's not just a matter of taste.

I will never argue with someone who says: "I don't like this movie" or "This movie doesn't do anything for me" or "This movie doesn't move me" or whatever. Those are subjective responses that everyone is entitled to.

But when you say: "This movie is random" or "there's no character development in this movie" or other such statements about a film's intrinsic value, then I think it's fair to disagree and provide a counter-argument. Because in those cases, you're not describing a subjective response to the film, but saying something about the film itself. And I disagree with the statements you're making about the film, so I'm just trying to show you why I see it differently.

Just wanted to clarify that, in case anything I've said could be misinterpreted as disrespectful or a personal attack on you.

  
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Andreas_N
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Re: Secrets of the Heart (1997)
Reply #8 - 31. Mar 2009 at 23:43
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Smiley

Okay, now I really need to watch the movie again.

I deeply respect your approach, joseph, and your arguments. It's a matter of fact that we disagree on many movies, but I see this as a good thing. I don't care if I have missed the point of a movie or not - probably your point differs from mine. When I find a movie boring or weird, I don't want to sit down and analyze at length why this might be the case. I'm also sure there are people who praise those very things I detest. What is a bad movie, anyway? By which means can you measure its quality? Pretty much everything is subjective perception, influenced by our individual personality. There are many movies I rated high that you rated 5 or lower.

I don't want to discuss this at length, because there's no point in it. There were many performances and many movies that have occupied my thoughts for years, others were simply hard to watch through. That's life.
  
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