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Key to the Secrets


Directed by Nicole Ferrari y  | Review by Helen Wheels

[dropcap]Nicole[/dropcap] Ferrari’s Key to the Secrets transports the audience into a fantasy land of watercolor trees and meadows. It is a place where majestic mountains speak. We enter this world as if we’ve opened a children’s storybook and our French speaking grandmother is reading to us. The traditional hand drawn animation feels nostalgic, as wood wind and stringed instruments beg us to take a journey. Grand-mère tells us the tale of an adolescent girl, Cresence who lives in the Swiss Alps. She loves the forest and feels quite comfortable among the trees surrounded by her animal friends.

Key to the Secrets is an ode to the resiliency of childhood experienced through the eyes of a lonely outcast, who holds onto her innocence because of her ability to block out the world and go deep inside her own mind. Cresence is teased endlessly by the other children at school, but her imagination protects her, allowing escape from the constant torment. She visualizes butterflies landing on her shoulders as her classmates circle her chanting her name, and doesn’t respond as the boys continue to tease her. In class she is chided by the teacher for daydreaming. But her so called daydreaming is truly her imaginationre-constructing a story that she had heard as a young child; a story that she plans to use for an assignment that is due in class the following day.

Ferrari draws us into Cresence’ imaginary world with a mixture of animation styles interwoven with live-action drama; a combination of techniques which gives the film a touch of the surreal. Some animations appear as if painted before our eyes.The illustration and narration in the old-style sentimental scenes is reminiscent of Disney’s, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Disney’s story centers on the “Hundred Acre Wood” that an adolescent boy (Christopher Robin) has filled with make-believe friends. In Disney’s tale, the story is narrated by a grandfatherly voice. In Ferrari’s narrative, grandmother’s intonation and the delicate watercolor memories fade as we are pulled into the reality of this adaptable girl’s world. Cresence is on the school bus, gazing at an ice-covered mountain. The children on the bus are staring at her. It’s her stop. She returns to reality, jumps off the school bus and runs up the long road to her house.

The reality checks are mere moments that establish where Cresence’ body is, and then we are propelled back to her internal story. In the final set of animated scenes, we’ve been transported to a French Alice in Wonderland. The color palette has brightened; a character appears in a puff of smoke, much like the caterpillar in Alice. New, yet somehow familiar characters continue to make their entrance; a Disney princess, a frolicking fawn, and fairies. They have come to bestow Cresence’ destiny upon her.  With her new-found sense of self, Cresence bravely stands in front of the classroom of children who had mocked her. She tells the story of her grandmother, whose name she shares and produces an ancient metal key, The Key to the Secrets. Farrari’s whimsical coming of age story is fresh and yet familiar. It reads like a fairytale and celebrates resiliency through imagination, a kind of childhood superpower.


Helen Wheels is an independent filmmaker, freelance writer, and visual artist. She has produced, directed, worked as a set designer and scenic painter, and has been an assistant director on dozens of films. Wheels graduated from Shoreline College with an AAAS in Digital Film Production and is continuing toward her MFA in New Media Communications.  Known for her eye to detail and advanced research skills, Wheels is currently researching historical events for her latest script and is in the process of developing her online writing business.


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