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Tell No One (Ne le dis a personne)

dir: Guillaume Canet
[img_assist|nid=88|title=Go on, tell someone|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=333]
A French adaptation of an American mystery novel made with an eye towards an international audience? That sounds like the latest version of The Pink Panther, or Asterix and Obelix, doesn’t it? But no, Tell No One is loosely what I just described it to be, and it works out as a pretty decent thriller, with a compelling mystery behind it at that. The remakes of French flicks for American consumption usually suck, but the reverse of it has strangely worked to more than just my satisfaction.

A husband and wife, after hanging out with some other French people who all smoke through dinner, go for a midnight swim and for some naked, sweaty love by a lake. The woman disappears, the man is knocked out: it all seems like a very short film with a sad ending.

Eight years later… Alexandre (Francois Cluzet) has been mourning Margot (Marie-Josée Croze) all this time, and doesn’t seem like he’s achieved what Americans delightfully like to refer to as closure with what happened. Two bodies are unearthed on the property not far from where Margot was murdered, which kicks off a whole lot of mystery and intrigue surrounding the events of years previous. Though cleared of involvement in his wife’s murder, suspicion still hangs over him, as some in the police’s ranks think he probably still was responsible for everything like he’s some super resourceful criminal mastermind.

But Alex seems to be pretty traumatised by what happened, and seems to miss his wife terribly. And when he starts receiving cryptic emails implying that his wife might still be alive, his joy and confusion are palpable. There’s also a group of ruthless crims who seem to be determined to screw Alex’s life up even more, as if losing his life wasn’t enough. And these ruthless crims are beyond sadistic. One bony henchwoman delights in using nerve pinches and agonizing holds to torture people for information, and presumably because she has nothing else to do on a Saturday night.

You don’t really need anything more by way of synopsis, because the plot is revealed with energy and momentum, with the audience never being completely the wiser until the very last reel. And that’s all I can really ask of a flick like this, because maintaining the mystery and the momentum is all that they’ve got. This isn’t, despite being French with French actors speaking exclusively in parlez vous Francais, a deep meditation on life and love and French men’s compulsive need to smoke all the time and nail anything that moves.

Alex, for all of what may be his many faults (we don’t see any, since he’s portrayed as a saint), is a decent protagonist, especially for something like this. We believe his desire to find out what happened to his wife to be genuine, but this is the kind of flick where anything’s possible, and you’re not going to be privy to what’s going on until it happens, and by then it’s too late for the rest of us.

So there’s no disclosure of anything that could possibly spoil the central mystery. The truth is this isn’t the kind of flick you can figure out in advance, since the tight plotting is patiently doling out crumbs keeping us all (like Alex) in the dark until the very end, where everything is revealed (well, almost everything) through a startling slab of exposition.

Maybe that’s a problem, maybe it is a classic case of tell instead of show, which is meant to be preferable, but I didn’t mind so much in this instance. The film maker and the actors, and everyone else involved puts ample effort into getting us to care about Alex’s plight.

Upping the ante substantially, once the chase begins in earnest, and Alex seems to be being chased by every fucker in France at the same time, it raises the flick to a whole new level, but keeps it (somewhat) believable. Whilst the plausibility of the overall scenario might be questionable, that chase section alone makes the film worth watching, starting as it does at a hospital, and ending in the Parisian slums. Sure, there are almost too many characters to keep track of, but the flick never loses focus for its two hour length, which I really appreciated.

The flick has a rich panoply of strange characters, most of whom aren’t going to stick around for long, many of whose names you can’t remember and most of whom you won’t glean as to their purpose until the very end. They range from Alex’s dead wife, to his horse loving sister, to her wife played by Kristen Scott Thomas, who only seems to be in French film these days, to an evil senator, the senator’s evil and sadistic henchmen, and a helpful gangster lording over a slum council estate region who literally has a tattoo of the logo for The Godfather comprising that puppeteer’s hand pulling some strings interspersed through the letters of the title. On his shoulder. Nothing says contemporary French gangster like a Godfather tattoo.

The strangest thing is how little the overall clunkiness of the “solution” matters, and how little the French setting really factors into it. Much of the soundtrack, given over as it is to Jeff Buckley and U2 tunes really makes it seem like the focus is more on preserving the bones of the story without Frenching the action up to an extent that would alienate non-Francophone audiences. I doubt those elements are the reason for the film’s surprise success overseas, but they do point at the very least towards an intention to leave out many of the French clichés that have plagued French cinema since the heady days of the New Wave.

As a lead, Alex is a decent character, looking like a guy who doesn’t really look like he would or should be the lead in this kind of film. When/if Hollywood makes an inevitable remake, the guys at either end of the likely casting actorial spectrum would be some alleged heartthrob from the latest soap, or, and this is far more likely, it’ll be Bruce Willis. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just that he’s all wrinkly and sweaty.

Francois Cluzet is pretty good here, in that he slips into the role, and makes it seem like a real character (who’s a bit of a square, but that’s not a problem). It enhances, I think, audience involvement, because when the plot starts putting him through the wringer, it’s easier to identify with him.

And identify I did. Not in a way that really means that I’ve gone through anything similar, but in the sense that I appreciate the desperate lengths he goes to, trying to find out what’s really going on. In an abundance of ways I appreciate these kinds of plots far more than ones about a guy whose wife/daughter/puppy gets killed, who spends the movie’s duration hunting down and killing the perpetrators. Done to death, that shit’s been played out. A flick like that comes out every few days; a flick as enjoyable as Tell No One does not, in fact it’s a rare thing indeed when these movies work.

As much as I enjoyed the film, now that I think about it some more, the solution kind of bugged me. It’s not obligatory to me that a mystery – thriller such as this has a solution that I can predict in advance (which is what usually happens), because that would diminish my enjoyment somewhat as well. But in this case the solution, or the explanation of what actually happened, is so extremely out of left field that it seems like nothing would or could have ever been figured out unless that one character who delivers all the exposition, just decided to do what they do at the right time. In other words

What happens at the end completely and adequately explains everything, absolutely everything to do with the plot. All tied up in such a neat little package. But the unfortunate element is that it is all delivered in the form of a fifteen or so minute slab of expository monologue, accompanied with helpful visual aids. All it needed was a fucking PowerPoint presentation to go along with it. It’s not like I can think of a better way to deliver such an important resolution to such a story, but it still bugged me, because it took me down off of the high perch I’d been on for the preceding two hours.

Minor quibbles. It’s a solid flick, and it remains grounded yet fluid for most of its length.

8 times I doubt I would have hung on for eight years out of 10