Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Tell No One: A compound French thriller based on an American mystery novel

Tell No One” (“Ne le dis a personne”), dir. Guillaume Canet, is a curious and encompassing French thriller that puts together an enormous array of ideas, and seems like a Gaulish dream. But actually, it’s an adaptation of American mystery novelist Harlan Coben’s 2001 mystery (published by Orion and Dell), and rather fast paced. It manages to be plot- and character-driven, and amazingly bring ideas together that one would not normally connect.

The film is distributed in the US by The Music Box in Chicago, with a production company or Europa. Very professionally and extravagantly made (it must have cost at least $30 million or so), shot on location in full 2.35:1 with many special effects, it’s interesting that it has such innovative distribution. It is left unrated, and there are probably 20 seconds of footage that would “earn” the dreaded NC-17, and some extra scenes (the film runs 125 minutes) that a larger American distributor would delete from theatrical release (leave for the DVD). This looks like a case where the artist wanted an all-or-nothing presentation. The movie makes a case for Roger Ebert’s idea that we need a genuine “adult” rating without giving a film a bad reputation for the box office.

The title itself is interesting enough. It sounds like “Don’t Say a Word” (2002), or the notorious “don’t ask don’t tell”. Although the film story (and the author’s novel of this name) has nothing to do with the notorious political issue, the dramatic notion, as applied to a person, perhaps applies.

Now, for the situation. The movie opens with a prequel at a lake, where a middle-aging Alex (Francois Cluzet) and his beloved wife Margot (Marie Josee-Crose take a night swim, in the same pond they had played in as kids (the film’s last shot makes this relevant). Something happens to Margot on the opposite shore, and Alex tries to save her, and he is knocked into the water. We don’t know how he is rescued yet. But eight years later, Alex is a pediatrician in a Paris hospital. The story never gets much into medicine, apart for forensics, or the health care debate, and again it’s interesting that the plot is so transportable to Europe from the US. Two bodies are found near the lake, and the police may restart the investigation. At almost the same time, Alex gets a bizarre email on Yahoo! (it looks almost like spam) that links to a video apparently showing Margot alive.

The coincidence sounds almost gratuitous. You wonder why it doesn’t sound half-baked. Yet, the movie launches us on an adventure through Paris, its suburbs, and the problems in French society that keep us on a roller coaster, all the way to the denouement, which is probably not as convincing as the ride itself. Various characters, almost as if from a Victor Hugo novel or perhaps even from Chaucer, populate the story. Among these apparently are some North Africans who give us a little bit of a visual picture of the discontent of unassimilated Muslim young males in Paris suburbs. (The 2004 thriller “District B13” comes to mind.) In another stretch the film dabbles with lesbianism. There are spectacular chases, and a well-staged freeway car pileup as a result. I believe that I drove through that exact area in 1999 when I rented a car in Paris from EuropeCar (I would lose the keys in Bayeux, prompting an adventure that I could tell in some other blog posting). The French drive too fast, it seems (and that’s what I found personally). At one point, Alex is abducted, taken into the back of a vehicle, and unveiled and worked over in a manner that reminds one of Carter Smith’s “Bugcrush”. The double crosses and action pile up (with plenty of flashbacks to the “back story”), even if the two central protagonists emotional lives have been in limbo for the eight years.

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