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France, 1997 (MIFF 1998, International Panorama)

Director: Jacques Rivette

Secret Defence is a powerful and original French crime thriller about a brother and sister caught up in layers of mystery which emerges from the supposedly accidental death of their father five years earlier. Soon after Paul decides to seek out his father's killer but ends up injured in hospital. Meanwhile, a young woman named Veronique approaches Sylvie, Paul's sister, and tells her that Paul has been threatening their father's former associate, Walser. Sylvie takes a gun and matters into her own hands. She heads out to Langres on the east coast of France where Walser has his domain. There, everything goes horribly wrong and Walser becomes accomplice to a crime along with the person who originally set out to murder him.

Director Rivette based Sandrine Bonnaire's Sylvie on the archetypal ancient Greek story of Electra who, with her brother, holds an unforgivable hatred for her father's murderers. Rivette, however, has clearly positioned this drama in a modern context of full economic and technological change in Europe. Sylvie, a clever, logical research scientist, slowly discovers the secrets behind her father's invention of a revolutionary piece of military software, which inadvertently opens a Pandora's Box of greed and power. Secret Defence reasserts the murder mystery as a potent genre, reinventing the classic heroine as even more intriguing and surprising than ever.

"In Secret Defence, Rivette maintains a tricky, elongated rhythm that... lovers of cinema will find perfectly enthralling... Precise direction keeps suspense taut as a complex skein of emotions, appearances and delayed consequences is played out with methodical, graceful strokes." - Variety

Veteran filmmaker Jacques Rivette has been working in France since the mid-60s. His substantial filmography includes Paris Belongs to Us (1960), L'Amour Fou (1970), Merry-go-round (1980), Love on the Ground (1984) and Joan of Arc (1994).

See also...


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Based on Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights Jacques Rivette sets a drama laced with hatred, love, revenge and depravity. Although Catherine is in love with Roch, a foundling brought up by adoptive ... More »


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