"The Secrets" co-stars Fanny Ardant, living representation of all the precision and logique of French cinema. She plays Anouk, an ex-convict who just served 15 years for a mysterious murder of passion. Anouk, now dying of a double dose of heart disease and cancer, decides to go in for the burlap-wrapped mortification of the flesh to satisfy the wrath of He Who Is Not to Be Named. Director Avi Nesher (a longtime vet of the Israeli industry) keeps enough distance that we can watch this ritual without judging too much.
The real star of the movie, though, is Anoukâ€™s volunteer leader in this penance, a rabbiâ€™s daughter come to study at the Daat-Emet seminary in Israelâ€™s holy city of Safed. High in the mountains, this place is a hotbed of cabala and ecstatic Jewry. At night, the students play music and dance around bonfires to express their faith. Naomi (Ania Bukstein) has no mirth since her mother died slowly of cancer. She has gone back to school to put off her impending marriage to a priggish, sexist rabbinical student.
A new arrival, the haughty, tense Lyonnaise/Israeli girl Michel (Michal Shtamler), has come to study. Soon, she and Naomi bond over the case of the destitute Anouk, abandoned by the local religious authorities as a damned soul whose crime is so dark that she will never find forgiveness.
Naomi goes to work on the redemption of this guilty woman, using everything from prayer to the aforementioned sackcloth to ritual bathing. Naomi searches for a tikkunâ€”a method of healing suggested by some of the Talmudic and cabala texts she studies at school. With some wit, Nesher stages the more involved of the rituals during thunderstorms, to make it look like a witchesâ€™ sabbath, although one tenderer ritual between two of the girls also takes place during a rainy evening.
Without going dumb, the film deals with the aspect of the cabala that attracted Britney Spears; lots of women would like to be sorceresses, and "The Secrets" might appeal to them.
In a logical last-minute twist, Naomi faces small-mindedness in the form of the inevitable prejudice against a girl who takes a different path from the one that leads to marriage and childbearing. The end of this movie isnâ€™t especially crowd-pleasing, but it has a peculiar integrity, reinforcing the strength of its mystical young heroine.
Richard von Busack of Mr. Movietimes and Metroactive.com