Nélie (Lyna Khoudri) sees no future for herself on the streets of 1914 Paris. A chance encounter with a Red Cross nurse, however, seems a ticket out of prostitution, and her resourceful work on the front earns friends if no opportunities. One day, her friend Rose, from a well-off family, is hit by a shell and presumed dead. Nélie jumps at this chance to take on Rose’s identity and become a reader to the wealthy, sheltered Madame de Lengwil. From here, Secret Name (La place d’une autre) follow’s Nélie’s double life, but its rote plot developments hamper psychological truths. 

Secret Name loosely updates Wilkie Collins’ 1873 novel The New Magdalen, taking the Victorian idea of a “fallen woman” given a chance at new circumstances and transporting it to a slightly more liberated time. Aside from the World War I framing device, little historical context is given – the wealthy family with whom Nélie finds a home is not concerned with anything outside its limited, derivative upper class bubble. Instead of commentating on the divide between Nélie’s past and present, the film is unconcerned with the striking social disparity except where it relates to our protagonist. The precarity of Nélie’s future, however, is ramped up through melodramatic plot twists and rote reveals instead of a more genuine internal exploration. Khoudri is a skilled actress who makes Nélie’s decisiveness feel real, but she is not given much time to explore moments of doubt.

The production design is meticulous, if a little too clean, from the streets of Paris through to an early 20th century asylum. When the story is told through human movement and touch, it finds sincerity absent from the uninspired script. 

Secret Name, despite its potential for social exploration and wonderful production design, over-relies on melodrama and fails to leave an impression.



CAST: Lyna Khoudri, Sabine Azéma, Maud Wyler, Laurent Poitrenaux, Didier Brice

DIRECTOR: Aurélia Georges

WRITERS: Aurélia Georges, Maud Ameline

SYNOPSIS: A young nurse, escaping destitution, takes on the identity of a young colleague who died on the front.