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Natalie Portman digs into the backroom of a forbidden relationship

Natalie Portman digs into the backroom of a forbidden relationship

“Secrets of a Scandal”, by Todd Haynes, is based on a real case that occurred in the 90s in the US, when a 34-year-old teacher seduced a 12-year-old student. Good co-starring of Julianne Moore.

“Secrets of a scandal”, “May December” in the original, it is the new film by Todd Haynes with Julianne Moore (with whom he had already worked in films like “Far from Heaven”, which dealt with another type of scandal) and Natalie Portman. The original title alludes to the relationship between a young person and an older person, because of spring (May) and winter (December), in the northern hemisphere, of course. Only, in the case of the film, rather than an asymmetric relationship in age, it is a crime against a minor: When the events occurred, she was 36, and the boy was 13.

The story is loosely based on a real case, which for years fed the cover of the yellow newspapers, that of the teacher Mary Kay Letourneau, who in the mid-90s, at 34 years old and being a teacher, seduced one of her 12-year-old students. She was tried, convicted, and in prison there a daughter was born, the fruit of that bond. Later, released with a court prohibition against continuing to see her former student, she became involved with him again, she returned to prison and had a second daughter. The third time, when he was already of age, they married and lived together for 14 years. They separated two years before her death, due to cancer.

Haynes’ approach to the delicate matter leaves aside what the Spanish title tries to emphasize: the scandal existed, but in the past, and now Gracie, the fictional name of the character (Moore), lives “happily” with her husband Joe (Charles Melton), the boy at the time, who is the age she was when the events occurred. They are the parents of three children, although her family is completed by her previous children from her marriage, her ex-husband, and Joe’s father. Of course, relationships are not optimal, quite the opposite.

As if the crime committed by the woman were not serious enough, The tone chosen by the story oscillates between psychological drama, love drama, and even, at times, comedy.. That is not unusual in cinema, and much less before now, when the sensitivity for certain themes has changed: We only have to remember the famous “Summer of ’42” (1971), in which Jennifer O’Neill seduced a 16-year-old teenager and no one caught his attention, like so many Italian films like “Malizia” (1973), to mention just two titles of the many that have been made about sexual initiation, something that becomes unbearable when the genders are reversed.

The twist that returns “Secrets of a Scandal” more original than any “scandalous” narrative is the appearance of an actress, Elizabeth Berry (Portman) who arrives in the present at the family home, with the permission of the couple, to become intimate with them in order to then shoot a movie. Elizabeth will play Gracie, and arrives to find out the ins and outs of the story between the two.

Elizabeth’s investigation is the best part of the movie: for what he discovers, for what he hides, for the part in which he identifies with his “reference character”, and even for the power struggle, and even the veiled seduction, which is established between the two, to the point of reach an unpredictable ending, and really well thought out.

A note, not a minor one, that makes “Secrets of a Scandal” an original film, although not in the best of the senses, is the using the soundtrack of another film as if it were your own. This has no precedent. It is not a quote, nor a reference or anything similar: The film’s musician, Marcelo Zarvos, appropriated Michel Legrand’s score for “The Messenger of Love” (“The Go-Beetween”, 1972), although explicitly, it appears in the credits and the production paid royalties to the heirs of the famous composer.

Something new always happens: the viewer may already be tired of hearing in 3 out of 10 Netflix period series “The Four Seasons” by Vivaldi, or the “Adagietto” from Mahler’s Fifth since Visconti first used it in “Death in Venice”, but for a new film to use another film’s soundtrack as its main soundtrack is unusual.

“Secrets of a scandal” (May December, 2023). Dir.: Todd Haynes. Starring: Julianne Moore, Natalie Portman, Charles Melton.

Source: Ambito

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