Sunday, March 28, 2010

Giving up vs. Going on: The Role of Remembering the Past

A Secret is the story of a Jewish family in post-World War II Paris. François, “a solitary, imaginative child, invents for himself a brother as well as the story of his parents’ past. But on his fifteenth birthday, he discovers a dark family secret that ties his family’s history to the Holocaust and shatters his illusions forever.” The film is adapted from psychoanalyst’s Philippe Grimbert’s celebrated truth-inspired novel, Memory. The film won the Grand Prix of the Americas Prize at the Montréal World Film Festival in 2007.

USF World Languages Professor, Madeline Camara cautioned against comparing the film against the novel, because they two are distinct languages. She warned that a director cannot convey the same feelings as does the writer. She lectured on three facets of the film: structure, characters, and history. The fragmentation of the movie is appropriate to convey the experience of introspection. Francois’s telling of the story is made possible because of his ‘borrowed memory.’ He has lots of mediators between the past and what he comes to understand about it. What it lent from the stories of others eventually constitutes his memory.

In terms of characters, the family friend, Louise tells Francois the story of his parent’s relationship and his lost brother. It is only she who can tell the story and keep living. Early on when Louise learns that Maxime and Tania are in love, she does not judge them, just as she does not judge Hannah’s decision to return to occupied France with Simon and face the cruelty of the Nazis. It is intimated in the film that Louise is a lesbian and perhaps this is the reason for her lack of an evaluative position.

Dr. Camara brought up the Greek tragedy of Medea who killed her children to punish her husband when he betrayed her. But much more is going on with Hannah then is the fate of the archetypal monstrous mother of myth. When Hannah seemingly decides to sacrifice her son to the police, she is in grave distress. Hannah has lost her parents, her brother and her tie to Judaism. She even believed that she has lost her husband, Maxime to Tania given the infatuation he conveyed toward her through his gazes. Without him, whom Hannah described as her world, she had nothing.

Tampa psychoanalyst, Michael Poff, an audience member for this screening, suggested that children create imaginary friends to deal with the isolation and loneliness they feel and to channel unacceptable affect including rage. Poff give extended remarks on how the film made him feel as a way to understand the plight of the characters. His descriptions included: deep melancholy; grieving that is never able to take place; bitterness about betrayals; and moments of anger interspaced with moments of understanding.

The dead child is idealized by Francois’ father, but Francois, is not related to in a humane and affirming manner by Maxime. Francois is treated as a replacement child and hence carries that psychological dynamic. The replacement child is always going to be seen as a weakling by the parents and is compared and found wanting to the lost child. As a man Francois goes on a journey to find out what really happened to his father’s first wife and son, hoping that the information he recovers will free his father from his guilt and tear down the wall that stand between them.

Dr. Camara noted that Maxime was never able to heal from his past because he was so focused on controlling everything and everyone around him.

My own thought is that Maxmine seemed to be uncomfortable with difference. Maxime idealized Tania for her athleticism and he worshipped his first son Simon for his athletic ability as well. Maxime was quit muscular and seemed to be able to love, only those that were like him. Francois, on the other hand was awkward child and would not respond as Simon had to his father’s coaching. This difference caused Maxime to distance from Francois. In the novel, the stark truth is that Maxime kills Tania when she suffers a stroke because he could not stand the thought of losing his ‘champion.’ Perhaps his inability to tolerate and relate to difference made it easy for him to bury his Jewishness, to simply become like everyone around him and certainly aspire to the Nazi ideal of athleticism noted in the wish for Aryan supremacy. This controlling behavior is evident earlier in the film as he tried to cut Hannah’s strong tie to her Jewish heritage.

Dr. Lycia Alexander Guerra, noted the impossibility of keeping secrets. Secrets cannot be held down or kept from being revealed. In psychoanalytic treatment, the goal is to let history come alive and to help the individual develop the capacity to hold memory and present day life in tension. The movie attempts to convey the importance of revealing the secret to establishing relational bonds through the use of color. The director portrays the past in color, while the present is in black and white. Color is again introduced into the film in the epilogue after Francois has experienced the death of his parents and the birth of his daughter with her ability to say the names of those from the past, something denied him as a child. It is at this point that he has integrated the sorrow of the past with his present ability to recognize what was loss and give it a name.


Madeline Camara -- Born in Havana, 1957. BA in Hispanic Lang and Lit in University of Havana, MA in Women Studies in Colegio de Mexico, Ph.d in Hispanic Lang and Lit in SUNY at Stony Brook. Has taught at University of La Havana, UNAM, and San Diego State University, California. Was the founder and editor of literary journal Letras Cubanas, in La Habana (1986-1992). Presently she writes a literary column for El Nuevo Herald. She has received a Rockefeller Resident Fellowship in the Humanities in Florida International University, in 1997, as well as a Fullbright Award Border Program in 2001.She is the author, among others, of Vocacion de Casandra (NY, Peter Lang: 2000) and co-editor of Cuba: the Ellusive Nation (Gainsville, Florida UP, 2000). Next books are La letra rebelde: estudios de escritoras cubanas (Miami:Universal, 2002) and La memoria hechizada (Barcelona:Icaria, 2002) Her present research deals with the image of the mulata as an icon for Cuban identity.

Lycia Alexander-Guerra, M.D.
received her medical training at Boston University, her psychiatric training at UF and USF, and in 1986 was chief resident in psychiatry at USF. She received her psychoanalytic training at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, and, subsequently, has studied Relational and Self Psychology, as well as Intersubjectivity at the Tampa Bay Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies, Inc (T-BIPS). She is the current president of T-BIPS, and of the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society, as well as founding Co-chair of the Veterans Family Initiative, which provides pro bono mental health services to families of veterans of the Iraqi and Afghani conflicts. She blogs for Presently, Dr. Alexander-Guerra is in private practice in psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, and psychiatry in Tampa, FL.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As psychoanalysis is an endeavor of understanding motivation, of meaning making, and of relationship, when we watch "A Secret" we ask ourselves: what do we make of Hannah’s deliberate blunder; as well as: what might it be like to grow up feeling unmitigatingly disappointing to one’s father, or to grow up under the relentless shadow of a lost sibling who was more narcissistically gratifying to their father?