The Secrets We Keep

What if you were sure, beyond a reasonable doubt, that your neighbour or someone living close to you in the area was in fact a dangerous war criminal who committed unspeakable atrocities towards you in the past and, like you, has escaped the fog of war to start a new life? Noomi Rapace’s Maja faces this dilemma in The Secrets We Keep, a deeply emotional, unbearably suspenseful dramatic thriller that showcases the actress at the most raw and vulnerable I’ve ever seen her, and if you’re familiar with her work at all you’ll know that’s saying a lot. Maja is a Romani girl from a small town whose entire family was abused, violently assaulted and terrorized by a marauding band of German SS officers on their way to escape from Bucharest sometime near the end of the war. She alone made it out, and went on to start a new life in postwar United States, where she meets a husband (Chris Messina) and has a child. But wounds of the past don’t heal too easily, especially when she notices Swiss newcomer to the town Thomas (Joel Kinnaman), who she instantly recognizes and believes to be one of the officers who brutalized her fifteen years ago. She kidnaps him, keeps him in her basement and pulls her skeptic husband into a deadly, highly emotional interrogation game as she tries to get Thomas to admit who he is, which he simply won’t do. Does she have the right man? Is Thomas really this person or has her trauma clouded judgment and altered her personal reality into projecting onto someone innocent? Things get complicated when Thomas’s wife (Amy Seimetz) comes looking for him and the whole situation threatens to blow up in everyone’s face. This is a thriller for sure and there are some moments of tension so extreme that I forgot to breathe, but at its core this is a story about how the psychological scars of war never really heal, and through Rapace’s staggeringly good, heartbreakingly intense performance that theme comes across achingly clear. They live in one of those idyllic, Shangri-La 1950’s postwar neighbourhoods you’d see in something like Malick’s Tree Of Life, made of picket fences, pastel houses, tranquil evenings, children playing on the streets and air drying laundry billowing in the breeze like angel wings keeping sentinel watch on the inhabitants. But not even angels, allegorical or otherwise, can eradicate the devils present during a war, or even cause those affected by it to forget what happened to them and the trauma always, always follows them home in one way or another. Its a terrific guessing game, a visceral captivity thriller and and an affecting interpersonal drama but for me it works most effectively as a harrowing character study of one girl, the memories that won’t die and her struggle to live some semblance of a normal life after enduring unimaginable horror. Great film with an absolutely beautiful, diamond knockout performance from Noomi.

-Nate Hill

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