They can't chalk this one up to a wardrobe malfunction: Secret Things has sex scenes so hot they'll make your toupee levitate. If that were the only thing to say about writer and director Jean-Claude Brisseau's film, then itwould be merely exploitative, which would be fine. But this is a French film, after all, so when the characters aren't shagging, they're talking and talking. They talk a lot about sex, and also about gender relations, the class structure and, briefly, computer databases. They talk very solemnly, so solemnly I almost didn't realize I was watching a sex comedy.
The laughs do take a while to kick in. As the story begins, an exotic dancer, Nathalie (Coralie Revel), is earning her evening's pay, although that fact doesn't register immediately. We first see her reclining nude on a bed, seemingly alone. She is watched by a mysterious cloaked figure who is -- are you paying attention? -- holding a large bird of prey. The figure disappears, and Nathalie rises and performs a dance so sultry it would make Bob Fosse blush. Only after several minutes does the camera pull back to reveal a nightclub audience and, serving drinks at the bar, Sandrine (Sabrina Seyvecou), a shy young woman who says in a voice-over that she sometimes wishes she were the dancer.
But before she can land an audition, both are fired. Sandrine, fretting about her rent, agrees to move in with Nathalie, and they devise a new career path: They will take jobs at a Paris corporation, ensnare their male bosses in affairs and become wealthy and powerful. But, Nathalie cautions, they must not fall in love; love is "enemy number one."
For a time, the plan works. Sandrine successfully beds her kindly supervisor (Roger Mirmont), and all the while she keeps her eye on the most elusive quarry: Cadene (Fabrice Deville), dashing son of the company's founder. But she begins developing complicated feelings for these businessmen, and meanwhile Nathalie is acting mysteriously. Finally, all hell breaks loose in a conclusion that makes the earlier sex scenes look like a summer-stock version of Our Town.
Brisseau has been called the French Brian De Palma, but scarcely since his 1974 freakout Phantom of the Paradise has De Palma made a film this ludicrously perverse. Secret Things reminds me of another director: Ken Russell, whose looniest movies -- Lisztomania, Gothic -- are all sex and monsters and feathers. By the end, so is Secret Things.