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The Secret Life of Words | Review

Given the Power to Heal

Romance shows how the deaf lead the blind.

Films that take place on oil rigs should all carry a word of caution: tragedy ahead. After the spiritual salvaging in Breaking the Waves we get another recovery process from a rig disaster. This time The Secret Life of Words demonstrates that wounds tend to be more than physical and in most cases, skin deep. Isabel Coixet’s melodrama contains a dually strong dramatic presence in Sarah Polley and Tim Robbins, but the entire healing period is overwrought with tediously drawn out dialogue exchanges and the final last quarter of the picture makes one wonder why the clinical template of the picture had to be such a mainstay in developing both the narrative and the characters.

You won’t find any falsely conveyed emotional truths in the work of Coixet, seconding her collaboration with the Spanish helmer, Polley delivers the goods with a character that is challenged in life not by her thick Eastern European accent but by her internal struggle. Changing from a factory worker life to that of a nurse, this commences as a strange narrative where an obsession with soap, deafness and extreme isolation are self-explanatory samples of the possible non-confidence vote towards men. Influenced by the works of John Berger, Coixet paves the way for a metamorphosis of sorts. She attaches the battle of feminism with deep puncture wounds of the protagonist thus it gradually reinforces the metaphoric overstatement of the oil rig as a place of isolation and makes the predisposed focalization on how trustworthiness comes in small increments a tad too filtered.

Cemented middle of nowhere locations, seaside working-class conditions and the bleak selection of colors announces the emotional insignia of the portrait, the entirety of the film is quite heavy-handed and draining up until the moment where Julie Christie’s character re-enters the storyline and where Robbin’s character claims that “I’ll learn how to swim” that the film starts to unwind itself perhaps a little too late for making audience’s dry eye’s all watery.

As alluded to with My Life without You, clearly Coixet is interested in exploring the kind of psychological matter that rests in people’s closets, protecting the truth at the expense of others and one’s self. Not sure what Focus Features has in store for The Secret Life of Words since it appears as if the project is no longer on the slate, but for anyone looking for a tragic love story merged with a tale where the weak leading the blind then seek this out perhaps in as a DVD venue.

Rating 2 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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