Secret World (1969)

Secret World 1969Secret World (1969) is an exquisitely shot French film directed by Paul Feyder and Robert Freeman. It focuses on  the strong feelings and fascination of 11-year-old Francois (Jean-Francois Vlerick) towards a much older woman.

Excellent cinematography

Unfortunately the story development doesn’t match the film’s excellent cinematography. After an intriguing opening scene, the story slips into a painfully slow pace. More than thirty minutes are spent establishing the role and the background of the story’s protagonist.  Francois turns out to be an orphan who is taken under the wing of his uncle and aunt.

The family has a grown-up son of its own, a rebellious playboy who doesn’t hesitate to hit on his father’s mistress (who is visiting the family under a false pretense). That same woman becomes an object of attraction to the young Francois, although it’s not entirely clear if, at his age, his love is merely an expression of his need for female attention – the kind of attention that only a mother can pay to her son.

Jean-Francois Vlerick and Pierre Zimmer in Secret World (1969)
Jean-Francois Vlerick and Pierre Zimmer in Secret World

The overall esthetic of the film and the way in which the story is told brings back memories of Philip Leacock’s 1956 film The Spanish Gardener – especially with regard to the attention being paid to the portrayal of the sensible nature of childhood’s mentality. One can also draw parallels between Secret World and other classical Coming-of Age films such as Mauro Bolognini’s  Agostino or Luigi Comencini’s tragic drama Incompreso.

The musical score builds expectations …

The musical score is mainly comprised of dramatic piano pieces that one commonly associates with either horror films or tragedies. But the open ended finale leaves the viewer to decide what category (outside of the Coming-of-Age genre) into which the film can be classified. Admittedly the expectations that the narrative built in me were not met…

Secret World collage
Promotional cards of Secret World

While I enjoyed the frequent close-up shots that focused on the young lead (whose facial expressions convincingly revealed bits of his inner world), I spent a lot of time looking at my watch until the last ten minutes of a film that totals two hours in duration. And I think this would be the case with most viewers, especially those accustomed to the swifter and more dramatic development in newer films.

The fact that one of the directors was The Beatles official photographer would be enough to convince some people to see the film. Or maybe the hint of controversy may entice other audiences. Yet I won’t blame anyone if they decide to skip the film in favor of one with a more consistent story.

Blogger, cyclist , entrepreneur , music lover and film critic.


  1. I just watched this film for the first time, yesterday.

    While not seeking out prurient interests, I admit I came to it with a preconceived notion of the plot line, based largely on the juxtaposition of the two characters on the poster, and the tagline which I’d read many times,

    “When a woman is more than a friend… when a boy is more than a child… love can be awakened too early.”

    While not exactly untrue, the tagline is still misleading (purposely so?) – No torrid romance or sexual liaison ever transpires between the boy and his adult infatuation. In fact, I doubt that the notion ever crossed the mind of the 11-year-old boy portrayed in the film – He appeared to have lead a somewhat sheltered life, and was not shown to participate in the more randy or bawdy sentiments of one of his older, seemingly more-experienced playmates.

    I must agree with Georgi in his summation of the soundtrack – Most of the time it was acceptable, but I found several scenes scored with too-jarring, horror-like pieces.

    The cinematography was pleasant, with several extremely long-shots used to adequate effect. Scenes of the French countryside and surroundings and grounds of the estate were proportionately included. The close-ups of Francois were well-done and also quite welcome :)

    As previously noted, the pace seemed to drag out too long, and I noted a number of scenes that could have been much better edited for length, and a couple that could/should have been left on the cutting room floor altogether.

    All-in-all, it was a moderately enjoyable film, and one that I can see myself watching on one more occasion before I depart this plane of existence.

    • Without a doubt the film tagline aimed to attract attention – who doesn’t enjoy controversial stories – the media is always ready to present them to its audiences. The premise of the film is not that unique – there are at least several films that focus on appreciation of a youth towards an adult such as in the dutch TV film Nachttocht ( ) and others I have refereed to from within my review.


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