Secret (2017) Short Film Review
by Raymond Landry
Written and directed by, as well as starring Shana Gagnon, Secret is a short film that depicts grief through the eyes of a recently widowed woman. We join the young widow, Madeline, on an emotional journey through striking, vivid cinematography and breathtaking Michigan scenery.
There is an overwhelming feeling of sadness in the opening scenes as we learn that Madeline is unable to afford her house and her horse after the sudden passing of her husband. We feel both grief and anger from the way that she interacts with the world around her. She is frustrated but still very much in love with the man that is now gone from her life—and perhaps a little resentful of the situation in which he has left her.
There is surprisingly little dialogue throughout the film, with Gagnon preferring to tell her story through a combination of beautifully framed shots, melancholic music, an occasional flashback, and a crisp use of color and sound. There are gorgeous shots where the shadows of the foreground are juxtaposed against the dynamic, vibrant colors of the background. Others are framed to look like paintings in motion—the colors again rich, bold and lucid.
The score is beautiful but somber, and fits the film’s mood quite well. The clever use of levels and volume, as with the hoof sounds in the stable, enhances the story. Nature, itself, really comes to the fore of the film. Technically, there is very little to fault and much to be praised.
The pacing really isn’t an issue, with the run time just shy of fifteen minutes. While undeniably a story about grief and loss, I felt myself more focused on the artistic aspects of the film than those of the thematic, with the latter seeming to perhaps clash with the former. The shots of autumnal leaves and beautiful nature gave more of a feeling of life and rebirth over loss and death. I thought that perhaps this was meant to represent the seasons of one’s life or the stages that we all ultimately need to go through. A day of mulling it over changed my mind.
All this thinking about death and grief stirred up memories of my father and his passing. Only then did it dawn on me what Gagnon was trying to share. Madeline, while in grief, experiences all the different things that she and her husband loved together—the nature, the seasons, the hiking trails, the Detroit Tigers. It’s the same way that fishing, hunting, making a potjie and sharing a bottle of cheap brandy bring back memories of my dad. They are beloved memories, but they also remind us of the ones we’ve lost. Perhaps that is the secret to grief that Gagnon is trying to share.
Whatever Gagnon’s true message, Secret is art—an audio-visual feast of a journey through grief in the most evocative way possible.