Secret Passage (2004)
Director: Ademir Kenovic.
Starring: John Turturro (Paolo Zane), Katherine Borowitz (Isabel), Tara Fitzgerald (Clara), Hannah Taylor-Gordon (Victoria), Anton Rodgers (Foscari), Ronald Pickup (Da Monte), Richard Harrington (Joseph), Seymour Matthews (Ruben), Marc Pickering (Andrea Zane), Carmen Sorrenti (Francesca), Adam Kotz (Inquisitor), Alessandra Costanzo (Maid Benviniste), Mustafa Nadarevic (Foscari's Informant), Frank Baker (Don Benveniste), Marianne Borgo (Donna Benveniste).
two Spanish Jewish sisters and a daughter try to escape the wrath of the Spanish Inquisition
Spoiler warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Spain 1492. The leaders of the Inquisition are taking all the goods out of the home of a family under suspicion. The younger sister of the family, Clara, says that she relied on her elder sister Isabel to protect her. The clergy makes an inventory of the family's goods. The Jewish family has to convert to Catholicism or else. The girls are baptized. The family exits the church and outside they find a Jewish family all hanged and still twisting in the wind. The family returns to their home from which are missing many things of value, carted away by the Catholic clergy. Inside the house is a mess. Father looks into his fireplace and pulls out a small religious container. He recites a Jewish prayer from memory.
Father gives the religious container to Isabel and tells her to take special care of it and take care of her sister Clara. He puts his two girls in a boat with adults. As narrator Clara says that her parents sent her sister and her on ahead of them, but they never saw their parents again.
Antwerp, Holland. 15 years later. Narrator Clara says that they settled and grew up in Antwerp. Isabel ran the household. She also arranged for Clara to marry Alfonso Salvador, a converted Jew like them. They lived as Catholics but knew in their hearts they were Jewish. Clara and Alfonso marry and Clara gives birth to a baby girl they name Victoria. But trouble comes back when the Inquisition bursts back into their lives. Her husband would smuggle Jews to safe places away from the Inquisition, namely Istanbul. But one day his wagon was attacked by thugs watched over by two Catholic priests. Her husband was killed.
At the time Victoria was only 13 years of age. The family had to abandon their home once again. Cousin Joseph chose to stay and substitute himself for Alfonso to bring Jews out to safety. With the passing of her husband Clara and Isabel became divided. The head of the Salvador family left his estate to his sister-in-law Isabel. She is given control over Antwerp, Leon, Frankfurt and Venice. Isabel will also be the guardian of her sister until Victoria marries.
Treason in Venice. The family transfers to Venice. They will get a boat from there to Istanbul, considered a haven for Jews. Da Monte is arranging things for them in Venice and will get them passage on a boat and then he will help them in Istanbul. He told the Venetians that the family plans to settle in Venice. Tonight they must go to a bal to meet the man who arranged their passage and talk to him about the family's plans for investments in Venice.
The three women with Da Monte go to the ball and meet important people, like Count and Countess Foscari. Victoria looks around the palace and is very impressed by what she sees. An aide to the Count, Paola Zane, comes over to him and the Count tells him that the new family has arrived. He especially points out the pretty Clara, who has been recently widowed. The Count's plan is to keep them in Venice and out of Ottoman control, because he wants to profit from their money. Paolo is to go over and meet the family and act as a spy for Foscari.
Paolo Zane works fast, introducing himself to the family and then immediately whisking Clara away for a dance. Meanwhile, four boys surround Victoria to talk with her. Foscari stops the dance for a moment to present the Ottoman ambassador to Venice with a gift of a beautiful glass model of a ship. The gift is to honor the relationship and the peace between Venice and the Ottoman Empire.
A woman named Francesca asks Paolo to introduce her to his companion. She insults Clara by mentioning that her clothes are so plain, probably because Clara is from Antwerp. Clara doesn't like that remark and excuses herself. She finds Victoria and tells her they are going. The Count expresses his unhappiness that the three women are leaving so soon, but Isabel tells him that have not as of yet recovered from their long voyage.
The next day Da Monte tells Isabel that the Turks will grant them passage, if Isabel uses her influence to help them. They want the secrets of making Venetian glass.
Da Monte and Isabel go in to see Count Foscari. The Count asks her what she is interested in: peppers, spices, silk? Isabel says Venetian glass. Foscari says that this is the Venetians most prized commodity. It can only be investigated by a person who is born a Venetian, but when Isabel becomes a citizen, she might be allowed in to see the secrets of the trade. He asks her if there is something else she is interested in. He offers his own proposal to take 15 percent of the take of two ships. Isabel says she usually gets twice that amount, so he says 30 percent on five ships. She says she does know how she could refuse his offer. After the meeting Isabel tells Da Monte that she has no intention of striking a deal with Foscari. She is going to see if she can't find out what the Turks want to know . Foscari puts his spy onto the family to learn everything about them.
Isabel shows Clara a secret passage behind a closet. It's nothing but wasted storage space in the passage. Isabel is thinking about putting in a place to celebrate their Jewish religion and heritage.
The two sisters attend a mass at the Catholic church.
Isabel asks Da Monte what does he know about Paolo Zane? He knows that Paolo comes from an old family that has seen better days. He also has a reputation of being somewhat of a lady's man. Isabel wants to know if he can be approached and Da Monte says he might be persuaded to help them.
June 3, 1518. A man named Hernan Vasquez is to be arrested for selling state secrets about the art of fancy glass making.
A doctor comes to look at Victoria. When Isabel comes home, Clara asks her if she sent the doctor to see Victoria? Isabel says she did not. The doctor tells them that Paolo Zane sent him over to look in on Victoria. Isabel walks the doctor out to a gondola and along the way he uses her real name. She asks him how he came to know her real name and he just says that one hears things. He also says he has heard about the good things she has done for others and the lives she has saved.
Hernan Vasquez is executed by being tied to a heavy stone and the stone being thrown into the water.
Da Monte tells Paolo Zane that the family is thinking about arranging a Venetian dowry for a possible future marriage of Victoria. He also says that Isabel is interested in starting a glass works, but that is not easily accomplished. Zane seems to be thinking of a possible marriage of his own son to Victoria.
Two gondolas filled with clergy are pushed through the canals while they bless the fish in the canals with holy water. A young boy climbs up the stacks of fish trays in order to get a better view. When the clergy start to get off the boats and onto the streets of Venice, the boy looses his footing and knocks down the stack of fish trays. The fish go all over the sidewalks and the clergy start slipping and sliding on the fish. Men already on the sidewalk try to help the clergy, but they slip and slide too. They all seem to end up in the canal waters.
Victoria learns that Jews are allowed in Venice, but they must stay in the ghetto. She looks out a window and notices how filled with people the streets are.
Isabel, Clara and Victoria get to visit a glass factory under the guidance of Zane. A glass blower shows them how to make a Prince Rupert's Drop. Victoria takes a look around by herself. Isabel asks many questions of the glass blowers.
Zane tells the glass factory owners that Isabel would be willing to pay a high price for the glass works. But what would stop Isabel from selling their secrets to others? Zane says she won't go elsewhere if her niece is wed in Venice. And Zane tells them that he wants his son to marry Victoria. Foscari warns Zane that maybe Isabel's family is not the right one for the Zane family for he made a verbal promise of a deal with Isabel, one she appears to be very unwilling to keep. Zane defends the Salvatores and Foscari warns him about becoming sentimental.
Paolo sends Clara a fancy writing kit with five quills, only one of which is black. The black quill is to be used for unpleasant letters. Paolo also invites her to his country house. Isabel goes shopping with her sister to get Clara a new dress. Foscari runs into them and talks in private with Isabel. He reminds her of the need to settle her accounts with him and that the laws regulating trade in Venice are very strict with stiff penalties for violations.
Cousin Joseph arrives to speak with Isabel and Clara. He has gotten six Jewish families out of Antwerp. Da Monte has hidden the families in the various islands around the area. He adds: "The sooner we leave, the better."
Isabel tells Da Monte that she is going to make her own deal with a glass maker and take him with them.
Clara and Victoria arrive at the Zane country estate. Zane says with her new dress she will make the Venetian women jealous. "Even Francesca?" she asks. Paolo says Francesca is his sister-in-law. He is a widower. Victoria is entertained by Paolo's son and she is not happy about it.
Isabel and Da Monte meet in secret with the glass maker, who seems to have his doubts about going to Istanbul. Isabel promises that he will be given his own glass works. Given that, the man agrees to the bargain.
Clara tells Paolo that her marriage was arranged by Isabel. She never really loved her husband. Clara says she thinks that her husband married her in order to be closer to Isabel. Isabel was never even engaged.
Isabel tells Clara that they will be leaving very soon. Clara seems to be having second thoughts about leaving Venice. She says the Venetians have been so kind to them. Sister suspects that something has developed between Clara and Paolo. Isabel says the Turks are sending them a boat soon. Clara says nothing more.
Late at night Clara goes outside in the rain. She goes to Zane's house in Venice. She and Paolo kiss. When she returns, Clara finds Victoria up. She asks Victoria about what Victoria thinks of the Zanes? Victoria just says she's tired and goes to her room.
Da Monte tells Isabel that Clara was with Paolo. Isabel now has to go talk with her sister.
Isabel asks Clara if she has gone crazy? She knows nothing about this Zane fellow. Isabel says that Zane is only after their money for his son. Clara says that Victoria will marry Zane's son and she will stay her to be with Victoria. Isabel gets exasperated with her sister.
Later Isabel tries again to convince Clara of the need to go to Istanbul. She says they are going to Turkey so they can be Jews openly.
Victoria visits a synagogue in the ghetto. She sees Foscari's spy there and starts to leave. The spy starts to follow her. Dr. Ruben suddenly grabs Victoria off the sidewalk and asks her what the heck is she doing here in the ghetto? She pleads with the doctor not to make her go back. She doesn't want to marry Zane's son. The doctor's friends call him over to them and they tell him to send the girl away because it's not right that she should be in the ghetto. The doctor says she needs his help.
Isabel learns that the ship will be here sometime in the month. She thinks that's too long of a time. Isabel goes to talk to Clara again. Clara tells her: "We want different things." Isabel says she won't interfere any more. And she will let Clara decide about her daughter Victoria.
Zane comes to visit Clara. Paolo says to the family that he wants the engagement of his son and Clara's daughter to take place within a few weeks and the marriage to follow soon afterwards. Victoria looks stunned. She is further discouraged when her aunt seems to give her blessing for the marriage.
Da Monte tells Isabel that their ship has arrived. She says she will be ready to leave by morning. And Da Monte must be sure to bring the glass maker with him. He agrees and says he will get Joseph to help him.
Isabel goes down to the engagement ball and tells Foscari that she will settle their agreement within the week. Foscari breaks out with a broad smile.
Da Monte and Joseph go to get the glassmaker. Joseph will have to swim to get into the glass works without being noticed. He slips into the water. Da Monte suddenly sees a gondola and realizes that they have been followed. He says he will go warn Joseph. Joseph himself reaches the glassmaker, but then two men try to arrest Joseph. Joseph overpowers the two and then they exit via another route. Da Monte has been caught, so the two men have go on without him.
At the ball Isabel asks Paolo to speak with her. Clara looks for Paolo. Isabel and Paolo go into a separate room, but Isabel leaves the door open. She tells Paolo that her sister seems to be in love with him, but she does not know how to deal with such men as Paolo. She uses flattery to draw Paolo in and soon they are kissing. Clara sees them kissing. She runs away. Clara gets out her writing kit. She grabs the black quill suited for hurtful letters. She now goes out and mails the letter.
Foscari speaks well of the couple that will be engaged tonight. He asks Clara and she comes into his view and goes over to stand by Victoria. Now he offers a toast to the couple and a long life in Venice!
The next morning the mailman picks up the mail. Foscari receives the mail and calls in Francesca to ask her if she wrote a letter to him? She denies that she wrote the letter. Foscari now has to find out who wrote the letter.
Da Monte is being publicly beaten. Isabel comes to Clara saying they have to go. She looks at the window to see what Clara is looking at and sees the authorities coming for them. Clara now confesses she wrote a letter revealing everything about Isabel. The authorities bang on the door and then burst into the home. Foscari and Foscari's spy are with them. Foscari gives the letter to Isabel. She reads it. A priest takes the letter from her and now reads the denouncement of Isabel to everyone.
The men searching the house discover the secret passage with a place to worship according to the Jewish faith. Isabel stands there stunned. She looks upstairs and sees her sister, who quickly dodges out of sight.
Foscari goes into the secret passage and asks for Isabel to be brought down to him. The corrupt fellow tells her that she is filth to him -- "a vile ,duplicitous Jew." He adds that she will be executed. And now, more importantly, where is the money? She says he will get 150,000 ducats at the end of the week. Furthermore, she will give him 300,000 more ducats if he lets her family live. She says Da Monte will arrange it, but Foscari has the pleasure to tell her that the man is dead. He tells her that now he will question Clara. If Clara is not forthcoming, well, they always have Victoria. He leaves.
Clara comes down to see Isabel, who tells her that they killed Da Monte. Clara is shocked at the news and says she's sorry. Isabel tells her that Foscari is holding Victoria somewhere. She must find Victoria and leave Venice. She gives Clara the sacred Jewish religious item that their father gave to Isabel when she was made the head of the family. Clara leaves crying.
Clara goes to see Paolo. He says he can't do anything for her. Clara says she came not for herself, but for Victoria. He turns his back to her. She says that she was prepared to give up everything to Paolo, but then saw him with her sister. She keeps it up until Paolo feels guilty and tells Clara that Victoria is at the convent of St. Michele. They hug and Paolo tells her not to come back here because the authorities are looking for her.
Victoria dressed as a nun is brought to Clara. She asks her mother why she came? Clara says she will get Victoria out of the convent. Victoria leaves. Clara takes off her ring and leaves it for the nuns. Joseph rescues Victoria.
Foscari questions Isabel about where Victoria is. She says: "I have nothing to say. My family is safe. Burn me if you like." Isabel is to be rowed out to a secluded area and thrown into the water via a stone tossed into the water first.
Joseph, Clara and Victoria get on a boat that heads to the Turkish ship. Foscari and Paolo watch the execution of Isabel.
Spoiler Warning. Good film with a good, but sad twist. The film deals with the prejudice in the western world toward the Jews. Spain and the Spanish Inquisition's persecution of the Jews forced Jewish people to accept the Catholic faith or face death. Many Jews converted, but secretly kept on worshipping in the Jewish religious tradition. The film is also about Antwerp, that ultimately does not prove safe for Jews either. It's on to Istanbul via Venice. In Venice the Jews have to live in a ghetto area. Nevertheless, the life in Venice starts to seduce sister Clara and she foolishly falls in love with a man only in it for her family's money. Isabel tries to talk some sense into Clara. One of Isabel's moves brings disaster on herself. Meaning of the story: it wasn't easy for the Jews in western Europe.
Patrick L. Cooney, Ph. D.
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