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5 Movies like Secretary: Convention-Defying Psycodramas

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Paola_Bassanese_itcher_contributorI almost fell asleep looking at the obvious recommendations for movies like Secretary (yawn). You want quirky choices and so do I! Because Secretary is such an unconventional genre-defying film, we must de-construct it into its component parts and find films that match each element.
~ Paola Bassanese

I found some gold in internet forums. These movies were highly recommended: May, The Piano Teacher and Damage.I’ll throw some Almodovar in the mix too for good measure.If you like a little bit of spanking and a little bit of psychological drama, I present you five choices that borrow elements from Secretary.
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`May´ (Lucky McKee, 2002)

Slasher-flick alert!

`May´ is a story of the challenges of fitting in and being accepted and it’s part horror, part romance, part erotica.

You probably need a strong stomach for the gruesome scenes, however the themes from Secretary are there: a young woman with mental health issues, her obsession with a man, living in a fantasy world (her best friend is a doll).

Reviews are mixed – horror fans found this movie too “tame” but most have commented on how good the storyline is.

Is this a “B-movie”? Kind of. But see for yourself.

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`The Piano Teacher´ (Michael Haneke, 2001)

The Piano Teacher was chosen in internet forums as a good match for Secretary, and I see exactly why.

The Piano Teacher is played by Isabelle Huppert, who indulges in sexual fantasies at night after a long day twinkling ivories and terrifying her students.

Some critics called it disturbing because of a number of scenes of cruelty. Inner fantasies and inner demons collide and the piano teacher is both victim and torturer.

Inner fantasies and inner demons collide

A difficult film but because it’s Michael Haneke directing it (he also directed Amour (2012), a very delicate portrayal of love in old age) we can simply start twitching uncomfortably and then sigh in relief when the unpleasant scenes are over (see Guardian‘s review).

Haneke prefers to leave it to the viewer to imagine the implied violence.

Is this film just Eurotrash? You decide.

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`Damage´ (Louis Malle, 1992)

Both Damage and Dead Ringers star Jeremy Irons: I chose them because they both portray obsessive sexual behaviours.

You can get an idea of this film straight from its promotional poster: the lead couple (Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche) is entwined in an explicit embrace…

Visually, the steamier scenes between the protagonists reminded me of Secretary (the office desk is no longer simply a depository of various stationery).

There’s a love quadrangle, political scandal and sex entangle.

There’s also a stellar cast including Miranda Richardson, Rupert Graves (Detective Lestrade in Sherlock) and Leslie Caron (Hollywood legend since 1951 when she starred in An American in Paris with Gene Kelly).

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`Dead Ringers´ (David Cronenberg, 1988)

I remember feeling quite disturbed watching Dead Ringers when it came out.

Then again, at the time I was an impressionable teenager and I wonder if teenagers today would find this film perfectly watchable without twitching. Please let me know in the comments what you think.

Violence is very much implied – our imagination can really make us jump in our seat as we wonder what is going on.

Hitchcock reference perhaps? This being Cronenberg (The Fly, A Dangerous Method) you can expect elements of the supernatural and horror plus sexual content.

Talking of A Dangerous Method, there’s some spanking in the film if you are so inclined…

`Dead Ringers´ is the story of two twins who are both troubled gynaecologists and enjoy swapping lives and partners…

Talking of Dead Ringers, actress Genevieve Bujold is a dead ringer of MP and former actress Glenda Jackson CBE in this film.

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`The Skin I Live in´ (Pedro Almodóvar, 2011)

Pedro Almodóvar is the king of psychodrama.

This time the protagonist is a surgeon who inflicts emotional and physical violence (in the form of extreme surgery).

“Disturbing” on many levels – but mostly in terms of being thought-provoking. Obsessive behaviours and emotional warfare abound in The Skin I Live in.

I was fascinated by how the story unfolded

Almodovar never judges but simply portrays – it is up to the audience to form an opinion. I loved this film but many of my friends didn’t.

I felt neutral about all the characters – in the sense that I didn’t feel offended or felt sorry for any of them. I was fascinated by how the story unfolded.

How does The Skin I Live in compare with Secretary? There is a lot of sexual tension and the same claustrophobic environment reminiscent of a theatre stage.

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And I have one more movie suggestion for you. It’s a film that comes to the cinemas on Valentine’s Day 2015 – Fifty Shades of Grey! Sadly, we have to be patient for still a while, but to make time pass quicker, here are some more films like 50 Shades.

What Do You Think?

Don’t forget to leave a comment!

**For a video playlist of the recommendations, please click here.

I am Paola Bassanese, and I love twitter – I think in slogans! I am a contributing author at itcher mag covering mainly quirky movies that I like and that I hope you′ll like too. [n-e-x-t] I have written a few books including The Foraging Home Cook, and also write about health and lifestyle for the Huffington Post. I consider myself to be a Londoner even though I was born in Italy. I love 80s music and foreign language films, but I also enjoy going to the opera and ballet.
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