Sylvie, (Bonnaire)'s brother has discovered that their father was killed by his assistant. Seeing that her brother is hellbent on revenge, Sylvie takes matters into her own hands, only to find herself embroiled in an even bigger mess and a greater mystery.
Ever since his lengthy 1961 Nouvelle Vague classic debut Paris Belongs To Us, Jacques Rivette has refused to be hurried. La Religieuse also clocked in at 140 minutes, L'Amour Fou ran for four hours and 12 minutes, while Out One carried on regardless for 13 hours.
Even the more accessible Celine And Julie Go Boating and La Belle Noiseuse ran for 192 and 239 minutes respectively. So it's no good complaining that Secret Defense is long and leisurely. Scenes of Sandrine Bonnaire (who was Rivette's Joan Of Arc in a two-part epic) conducting scientific experiments and cogitating on cross-country train journeys might not seem like gripping entertainment. But they're all part of Rivette's ongoing obsession with the nature of real/screen time and the idea of plot as conspiracy.
Sylvie (Bonnaire) is working late at the lab when she comes across her brother, Paul (Colin) searching for a gun. He has discovered that their father was killed by his assistant, Walser (Radziwilowicz) and is hellbent on revenge. Desperate to stop Paul ruining his life, Sylvie decides to handle the matter herself.
She arrives at the killer's estate, only to accidentally shoot his mistress, Veronique (Laure Marsac). Toss into the brew the unsolved suicide of Sylvie's teenage sister and the arrival on Veronique's suspicious sibling Ludivine (also Marsac) and you have a half-decent mystery on your hands.
The statuesque Bonnaire holds it all together as the woman whose well-ordered existence is thrown into turmoil by events she barely understands. While never exactly sympathetic, Sylvie is undeniably human and however unlikely her plight, her torment is all too real. This might not be Rivette's finest hour. But it's clearly the work of a master still fascinated by his art.
Yes, it's long, but Bonnaire holds it together with a statuesques and human performance, and whilst not Rivette's best, this is still a fascinating example of his work.