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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

History of a Secret (review)

Filmmaker Mariana Otero set out to explore the great secret of her childhood — where was her mother? — and ended up with a powerful and provocative meditation on family loyalty and the clandestine power of silence. Told that her mother was “away” because of her work as a painter, she learned only as an adult, a quarter of a century later, that her mother had died as a result of a botched illegal abortion. Otero travels France to talk about the deception with her family, including her sister; their conversation about how they dealt with the strangely unspoken truths as youngsters is chilling for all that it says about the harsh realities that children must cope with, and bittersweet, for all their vulnerability. And as Otero talks to her mother’s former friends, a portrait of a promising artist emerges, amplifiying the senseless tragedy of her death. Straddling the political and the personal and demonstrating that, as always, the two are one and the same, Otero weaves a complex and affecting tapestry of the undercurrents of women’s experience that is rarely so eloquent and poignant. Winner of the Best Documentary prize at the Valladolid (Spain) International Film Festival, the movie is accompanied by extensive extras including an interview with the director, featurettes about abortion from the 1960s to today and the work of Clotilde Vautier, and more. [buy at Amazon]

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MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

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