Director/Co-Screenwriter: Guillaume Canet
2008 European Union Film Festival
By Marilyn Ferdinand
Guillaume Canet is the Robert Redford of France. A handsome leading man perhaps best known in the United States and other countries for costarring with Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach, he has taken the plunge into directing. Tell No One, his second feature film, shows that this young actor/director really knows what he’s doing. While Tell No One breaks no new ground in the action/thriller genre, it is a tightly paced, assured handling of an exceedingly complex story that will keep you on the edge of your seat for all of its 125 minutes.
The film begins at a French country home Alex Beck (François Cluzet) and his sister Anne (Marina Hands) inherited from their recently deceased father François (Philippe Canet, the director’s father). The pair is having a small summer party that includes Anne’s lover Hélène (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Alex’s wife Margot (Marie-Josée Croze). The conversation at the picnic table is intimate and fun. One of the party has a new baby. Hélène suggests that Margot and Alex need a baby. “That’s the last thing he needs,” says another, “after just finishing medical school.”
After the party breaks up, Margot, Alex, and their new briard puppy drive to a lake on the family’s property. The couple walk through the woods to a pier, strip, and go for a swim. In a memory, we see them as children swimming together. Other such memories will show them carving their initials and a heart into the trunk of an ancient tree and add slash marks beneath it for every year of their love.
The couple lay naked on a pontoon float in the middle of the lake. They argue briefly about Alex’s desire to sell the summer home, over Anne’s objections. Margot eventually says it’s none of her business, then says she is going to let the dog out of the car. She swims to the pier, grabs her clothes, and disappears behind the trees. A few moments later, Alex hears her scream. He swims to her aid, but the last thing we see is a heavy object bashing him in the head. He falls, unconscious, into the lake.
A title card over the exterior of a hospital says “Eight years later.” Alex is now a pediatrician, (and we get a nice sight gag when we see the puppy as a massive dog). We see him talking to a couple flanking their young daughter. They’ve been told she has a serious medical problem. He explains that the only thing wrong with her is that she’s being pressured by her overprotective parents. He prescribes ice cream, toys, and lots of playtime. The growing delight on her small face as her parents stare at Alex in confusion is priceless. He abruptly leaves them when a nurse insists he come right away.
A man named Bruno (Gilles Lellouche) has brought his hemophiliac son into the clinic and insists he only trusts Dr. Beck to care for him. Bruno is grateful to Alex for diagnosing his son and contradicting the police who wanted to put him in jail for beating his son. Alex takes the boy, who he thinks has internal bleeding from a fall, to the operating room. The men meet again outside of the hospital where Bruno, with his very cool tattoo of The Godfather logo visible for the first time, gives Alex his phone number and says that he’ll help him get anything he wants. Bruno, it seems, makes his living in less than legal ways. I absolutely loved this character.
Sadly, Bruno can’t get Alex the one thing he has wanted for eight years—his murdered wife. Alex can’t get over her death, despite the urgings of Anne, Hélène, and even Margot’s parents, whom Alex visits each year on the anniversary of her death. That very evening, however, Alex gets a cryptic e-mail that links him to a YouTube video that apparently shows that his wife is still alive. Another e-mail comes later, apparently from Margot, confirming that she is indeed alive but cautioning Alex to “tell no one, they’re watching.” With the mystery now launched, Alex sets about to learn the truth about what happened on that summer night and whether Margot is, in fact, alive or whether he is the victim of a cruel hoax.
To tell you more about the plot would be to spoil the fun and suspense. I will say that Alex is pursued by the police, who had questioned him before he received the e-mails about two bodies found at the lake and now feel that he is implicated in those deaths, another crime, and possibly even the murder of his wife. At one point, Alex must beat it on foot from a large posse of pursuing police. Unlike the “heroes” in American films, Alex and his pursuers do, indeed, start to sweat and get winded. Alex even slips and falls, raising a groan from the audience. I even liked that the computer screen had Yahoo! on it and the e-mail was real. However, there is one hiss-worthy villain right out of the James Bond school of bad guys that was a little over the top, but in a good way. There’s also a massive car crash that would satisfy any action movie buff.
Cluzet, a Dustin Hoffman look-a-like to my eyes, was wonderful as Alex. His grief was pitch-perfect, his lack of skill at dodging the law played in a totally believable way, and his intelligence in ferreting out information ingenious. I didn’t realize I was watching Kristin Scott Thomas (I know I’ve seen her somewhere!) because her French is flawless (at least to me it is). It was great to see Jean Rochefort, whom I so admired in Patrice Leconte’s 2002 drama The Man on the Train, in a small, but crucial, part.
The denouement left a slightly sour taste in my mouth because while natural law may have been satisfied, justice was somewhat shortchanged and a lot of lives were ruined in the process. But this is a minor objection. Canet and his very gifted cast make hardly a wrong turn. The film has a very American feel to it, without the irony I usually associate with French takes on American genres. I’m not sure I like that the imitation is so nearly perfect. But it certainly means that Hollywood will have a run for its money with such great thrillers as Tell No One to contend with. l