An Israeli film, The Secrets is testimony to the blurring lines between orthodoxy and the inevitable mind-freeing effects of globalization. Even the English language subtitles are strangely careful in their spelling of "G-d"—a somewhat absurd concession to conservatism in a film charged with erotic content and full frontal nudity.
The story centers around Noemi (Ania Bukstein), the daughter of a well-respected rabbi who convinces him to let her attend a Jewish seminary in order to delay her marriage to his pointy-headed and arrogant protégé, and at the same time quench her relentless thirst for the study of scripture (not being sarcastic here). Michel (Michal Shtamler) becomes her roommate at the seminary; having just spent several years in Lyon, Michel is comparatively urbane with her lipstick, cell phone, and ability to use the internet.
The two at first clash, then bond when they are assigned to bring groceries to a mysterious, ailing Frenchwoman with a gruesome past, Anouk (Fanny Ardant). As the two become more involved with this woman, their bond deepens, and nature takes the course it sometimes does when young, healthy women in a highly repressive society are only allowed contact with each other.
There are some clunkily disparate elements to The Secrets, and it could have used a tighter focus and a heavier edit. However, some of its odd shifts are quite enjoyable, most notably its forays into Nancy Drew territory, where the girls spend hours poring over ancient rituals in the seminary library and clandestinely performing them in the dark of night under threat of shame and expulsion. On the flipside, when the primary plotline winds to a close, one is left wondering why the film trundles on for one last, unnecessary chapter. The Secrets is scattered enough that were it not for its cultural and geographical setting, it might find its way straight to video as a domestic release—but thanks to its air of exoticism, it ends up as a harmlessly enjoyable temptation.