Un Secret

Lonely boy growing up in post-war France wonders why his father won’t talk to him, and why his mother won’t let him play with the teddy bear in the attic. Long-time family friend finally explains that, before the war, the father had another wife, another son — and another religion. Lonely boy grows up be child psychologist helping other lonely boys and, ultimately, helping his father come to term with the guilt of having survived.

This is the kind of character-driven film the French do really well, and one of the few to deal honestly with the country’s collective amnesia about its wartime collaboration. Recommended.

Featuring Matthieu Amalric, last seen as the Bond-Villain in Quantum of Solace, another in the long line of fine European actors (Rutger Hauer, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Javier Bardem) typecast as villains in American movies.

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Australia

Two-thirds of a good movie. The first part, the Australian Cinderella, features a snobby British aristocrat (Nicole Kidman) who goes to Australia to figure out what her husband (McGuffin) is doing. Never mind that it’s 1939. She never does find her husband, but she winds up falling for a cattle drover named, remarkably enough, Drover (Hugh Jackman), who lacks a first name but looks really good in tight pants. For reasons not completely clear, Snobby Lady decides she wants to drive her cattle to the port of Darwin, probably to show off her fabulous horsemanship and riding wardrobe (both of which are of course perfectly suited to a cattle drive) and to admire the terrific Australian scenery. She is opposed by Evil Cattle Rancher (Bryan Brown, who used to be Hugh Jackman), and his even more evil Former Ranch Hand Henchman. She is assisted by the afore-named Drover, as well as the Drunk With a Heart of Gold, the Wise Native Medicine Man, and the Wise-A** Kid. She of course succeeeds, and goes off to live with Drover in happy unwedlock (no wedding, which would have required a first name).

The story ends there, but unfortunately the movie doesn’t. The final hour, the Australian Casablanca, merely serves to underscore how good (and unduplicatable) the original really was.

The movie’s one true note of originality involves the reaction of a young aboriginal child to a popular American movie of 1939. A movie about magic, the power of dreaming, singing as a form of communication, and the testing of a young adult’s valor on a personal quest, might well have spoken to an aboriginal child. It is, after all, the Wizard of — OZ.

Valkyrie

Not bad, and certainly better than my (admittedly very low) expectations. Tom Cruise is really too skinny and clean-shaven to be a convincing German, but he does a pretty good Man Wounded in Body and Soul. He even carries around his spare eye from Minority Report. If you can get past the casting of Cruise and other British and American actors playing Germans without an accent (Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Terrence Stamp, Tom Wilkinson), the movie provides  an interesting and absorbing account of the plot to kill Hitler in July 1944. The story is told from the point of view of the military plotters (Adam von Trott is nowhere to be seen), and details not only the attempted assassination but the failed coup attempt that follows.

This movie illustrates, more deftly than most I’ve seen, the quasi-religious aspects of National Socialism. Tellingly, the coup attempt is foiled by the youngest officers, who had grown up under Nazism and were most currently steeped in the Hitler cult. And, after seeing this movie, you can understand how anyone who lived under Nazi oppression in WWII would never want to hear Wagner again.