Boy, the field of entries at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival must have been slim pickings indeed, if this one managed to walk away with the top prize. Not that Secrets and Lies is bad; it’s a very well made film, but boy was it boring. There was no electricity, no life underneath it all that picks you up and grabs hold of you, arresting your attention through the running time. It just… was, and while what it was was interesting in a “good premise” kind of way, it didn’t pick up the premise and really run with it. Maybe that’s why it did win the Palme d’Or; it’s deliberate and methodical, and there are extremely few flaws to be found, if indeed you’re looking for them. But wow, could this film have ever done with a little jazzing up, to be somewhat frank about it.
For starters, the film seemed very aloof with its story. It doesn’t even start up into its main plot for about 20-25 minutes into the film, and when it does, it interchanges with the other plots it is handling so effortlessly and promptly that it comes across as not even caring about the story it is telling, which is a shame because this is a story that could easily have swum in emotion and caring. Like I mentioned, the premise is a solid one; a black woman, given up for adoption, traces her birth mother and finds out she is white. Simple, yet easily able to be multifaceted – I just wish the film had done more with the premise than just have it exist. The acting, on the other hand, was very good across the board; particular attention was given to Timothy Spall and Brenda Blethyn (who won the Best Actress award at Cannes for this), but everyone was exceptional. One last note: for me, the film was a little too long; at 2 hours and 20 minutes, it really feels like it, which is points off in my book.
I have to admit, this took me a great amount of effort to get through (though I must say, the last 20 minutes or so do feel like they’re worth it). I could tell that it was very well done, but it was like wading through a particularly typical swamp; all the little bits and pieces are in exactly the right place, but you’re still slogging through the thing. That’s mostly why I gave it the rating I did; I was torn between grading it on entertainment value (which is how I usually do) and merit as a well-made film, and I didn’t want to swing too far to one side and risk deflating the other, so I decided on ending up in the middle. This is a pretty hard one to recommend; there will definitely be people out there that will like this a great deal more than I did, and even more that will be able to appreciate how well done it is, but I just can’t shake how boring it was for me to sit through. So, moderate disclaimer if you plan on diving into this one; if you end up completely disinterested and bored out of your mind, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10