The Secrets

Year: 2007
Production Co: Artomas Communications
Director: Avi Nesher
Writer: Avi Nesher
Cast: Ania Bukstein, Michal Shtamler, Fanny Ardant

I've talked before about my love of gay female drama because they usually deal with someone who doesn't know she's repressed finding her true self and letting it finally take flight.

I put this on my list alongside a bunch of others when I discovered them all on a listicle online, but it's not really a lesbian drama, it's more a drama of two young woman learning their traditions and religious mythology by helping save another's soul.

Noemi (the delicious Ania Bukstein, and yes, you get to see her gloriously naked in two mouth-watering scenes) is a young Israeli woman who's father is a senior rabbi, betrothed to a no-nonsense religious scholar in what seems to be an arranged marriage, her family broken while they try to mourn the premature loss of her mother after an illness.

Noemi wants none of the life planned out for her, wanting instead to better understand the foundations of the Jewish religion and become a Rabbi herself. Her father agrees, sending her to a prestigious and remote boarding school where she quietly makes a few friends and starts her studies.

Then Michal (Michal Shtamler) arrives like a tornado – smoking, swearing, apparently forced to come and her attitude not hiding the fact that she's not interested in being there.

When Noemi and Michal are paired together for the charity work that forms part of the curriculum, they visit middle aged Frenchwoman Anouk (Fanny Ardant), who it's whispered served time in jail for murder.

Straight laced Noemi just wants to give the woman her food and get out, but Michal is fascinated, convincing the former to stay and teasing Anouk's story out of her, which the older woman – in her loneliness – is only too happy to share. It's all to do with an artist, an affair that grew too passionate and jealous and a killing that's almost romantic in its mystery.

But Anouk has an ulterior motive. Knowing she doesn't have long left thanks to cancer, she wants to atone for what she's done in the Jewish faith, and even though the school won't touch a murderess with a barge pole, she asks Noemi and Michal to perform the necessary rites to let her die knowing she's forgiven.

As they research what needs to be done and sneak around in the middle of the night stealing the icons and instruments of the necessary ceremonies, taking them to Anouk's house or various spots of religious significance around town, the pair grow closer and Noemi starts to come to life and understand what the holy books are trying to teach her.

So then, during a holiday back at Noemi's home where Michal comes too, they end up in bed together in a scene that's as chaste as it is breathlessly erotic.

But as I said, by then their quest isn't to defy tradition and stay together in a social climate that forbids such a relationship, and although that does come into the story and provide a climax that's heartbreaking but grudgingly realistic, helping Anouk atone and the pair falling for each other are kind of superfluous to each other.

The small township where the school is set is attractive, the locales all looking like some rustic village in Tuscany or Brittany, but director/co-writer Avi Nesher keeps the colour palette deliberately brown and dusty and it could have been a bit more visually alive.

And on top of that, the twin storylines that don't really mesh (and the one you're hoping the movie is about being kind of secondary) don't really help buoy your interest.

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