Tell No One

tellnoone.jpg
Revolver Entertainment
Guillaume Canet/France 2006

Alexandre Beck (François Cluzet) is a quiet pediatrician in Paris, known for his good judgment and excellent rapport with his patients. But his life is not so simple; eight years ago, his wife Margot (Marie-Josée Croze) was murdered at their country house by a notorious serial killer. When a policeman arrives at Beck’s clinic with news that two more bodies have been found on the property, all the old nightmares come back with a vengeance – even more so when he opens an e-mail from his dead wife.

This cracking premise leads us into a mostly satisfying thriller through the parts of Paris (street markets, squalid housing projects, and busy parks) mostly unknown to movie fans. Guillaume Canet’s film, shot almost entirely in dazzling sunshine, shows this most cinematic of cities with new eyes. And yet Tell No One, which won four Césars, relies on many genre clichés which are as stale as old Camembert.

Fortunately, the pace moves along so fast and so assuredly there’s no time to dwell on everything we’ve seen before. Adapted from the best-selling American novel by Harlan Coben, the film’s translation to a French setting works extremely well, although Canet and co-writer Philippe Lefebvre chose to change the names of the characters (and calling the heroine Margot is a clue to people who know their French history). However, in getting through so many plot twists into 125 minutes, Canet forgets to linger on the remarkable performances, most notably that of Kristin Scott Thomas. As Hélène, Alex’s sister-in-law, Scott Thomas holds your focus every time she is on screen. Famous for her “English roses”, she has lived in Paris for 20 years, but this is the first time most Anglophone audiences will have seen this side of her.

Indeed most of the cast are vaguely recognizable as solid supporting players to fans of French movies. Consummate professionals all of them, there’s not a duff performance in the film. Unfortunately they are let down by a plot which offers some very familiar thrills, without the creepiness in Crimson Rivers or the odd-couple protagonists of Read My Lips.

The trouble with most thrillers is their disposability; once you know the ending you don’t need to see it again. What is new in Tell No One is Canet’s attitude towards violence involving women, a necessarily essential component to a thriller. The fights where women are injured are filmed without the titillation or puerile enjoyment which makes so many action films quasi-pornographic. In Jean Goudier’s sound design, where slaps echo like gunshots, and Christophe Offenstein’s dispassionate cinematography, the violence is treated clinically, similarly to the CSI franchise’s autopsies. The occasional nudity is handled in the same unfussy fashion, an attitude hard to imagine in an American film.

The women in Tell No One can be so strong and fearless that their occasional moments of vulnerability are the most shocking in the film. At one point, a woman is shot in the back of a van (to reveal more would spoil it). She actually gets out, shuts the door, and starts walking normally down a busy street. The man who shot her has to follow her, gun drawn, until she collapses; then he’s the one who turns away and runs. This is only Canet’s second film as director, although he’s a huge star in France (and even had a supporting role in The Beach). If he continues to direct women with similar panache, he will really be on to something.

© 2007 Sarah Manvel. All rights reserved.

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