They were the Holocaust victims who have always been overlooked. It is easy to understand why a Roma survivor would keep silent regarding her tragic past, after building a new life in post-war America. However, the horror of it all comes back when she suddenly hears the voice of the German officer who killed her sister. She sets out to take justice into her own hands, much to her husband’s shock in an unfolding morality play that could be described as an Americanized Death and the Maiden. Above all else, she wants to hear the truth from his lips in Yuval Adler’s The Secrets We Keep, which releases today in some actual theaters.
Maja met her physician husband Lewis Reed in an Allied medical hospital in Greece, but before that, she had escaped from a Romanian concentration camp. Rather cruelly, the horrific incident that still haunts her happened in between. While seeking refuge with the Allies, they were intercepted by a rogue German unit, who did what you might imagine, before killing her sister. Fifteen years later, Reed recognizes the voice of their commanding officer in their sleepy Americana factory town.
He now calls himself Thomas Steinmann and claims to be Swiss, but the creepy tune he still whistles convinces Maja he is the man from her nightmarish past. Rather resourcefully, she kidnaps him and secures him in her basement, with the intention of extracting a confession. Naturally, it is a lot for Dr. Reed to process, especially since this is the first he has heard of his wife’s internment (or her Roma heritage in general). Yet, he is also deeply suspicious of Steinmann (or whoever he might be), so at least he is more sympathetic than Sigourney Weaver’s husband in Maiden.
In point of fact, Secrets is maybe not perfect, but it is still considerably superior to Maiden (which was helmed Roman Polansky, a convicted sex offender and written by a member of the “Duke 88” lynch mob). One of the major reasons is the Reeds’ compelling marriage dynamic. The ways Dr. Reed struggles with the unimaginable situation are highly credible and acutely human. Noomi Rapace does some of her best work since Stockholm as Maja Reed and Chris Messina does the best work we’ve ever seen from him as Dr. Reed. They have several extended scenes together during the third act that really make the film worth seeing.
The strategies people employ to relate to the “truth” and come to terms with their actions are the central concerns of the very smart screenplay, written by Adler and Ryan Covington. The film might ultimately surprise you, but everything that happens is completely logical, when taken in context. Recommended as a thoughtful contemplation on survivor’ guilt and the morality of retribution, The Secrets We Keep opens Wednesday (9/16) at theaters in Hawthorne, Maplewood, and Hillsborough, NJ and later releases on VOD 10/16.