A somber and intimate look at a family falling apart, and the desperate efforts to save it, “Family Secrets” is well worth a look, despite a certain predictability and some too-obvious symbolism. Exposure at the Berlin Film Festival could result in arthouse sales and airings on TV stations looking for quality foreign-language product. Helmer Kjell-Ake Andersson’s previous pic was the captivating costumer “The Christmas Oratorio.”
Film is set at the end of the ’70s, in a well-heeled middle-class suburb where the Bendricks family lives. Bosse (Rolf Lassgard) is an executive at a paper tissue factory who hides his inner despair behind an often maniacally smiling face. His wife, Mona (Maria Lundqvist), works as a part-time nurse, visiting elderly people; there’s a constant longing in her eyes — a longing for something other than the existence she leads.
Their eldest child, Ola (Erik Johansson), constantly quarrels with his sister, Kickan (Emma Engstrom); the youngest child, sensitive Morgan (Linus Nord), is devastated when his best friend is forced to leave town after his parents split up. With horror, Morgan also starts to notice the disharmony between his parents.
In a none-too-subtle touch, Bosse and Mona discover their house has a crack. On investigation, it turns out the whole house was built on unstable ground and is likely to collapse in the future.
Mona discovers that Ove (Mats Blomgren), the son of one of her patients, has returned from living in the U.S. The two were lovers 20 years ago, and it’s clear they still have the hots for each other. One day, out on a ride with Morgan, Mona leaves her son in the car and has sex with Ove in his hallway. Morgan, however, hears what happens, and the effect on him is devastating.
Meanwhile, Kickan goes to a party with a friend of Ola, and is forced to have sex with the guy in front of the other partygoers. Family tensions build to a final night and following day during which all members reach some kind of insight about themselves and their future together.
“Secrets” is much smaller than Andersson’s previous movie, concentrating on a handful of individuals and using just a few locations. Despite some overfamiliar elements, its serious, low-key approach to the characters finally wins the viewer over.
Acting is excellent. Lassgard, one of the busiest thesps in Swedish cinema, is utterly convincing as Bosse, a man who desperately refuses to acknowledge the truth about his family. As the wife, Lundqvist, best known from a popular TV sitcom, again shows her ability to convincingly portray a woman in turmoil in a serious drama. Tech credits are all fine.