March 4, 2007

Rendez-Vous. 6.

Tell No One Two takes from David D'Arcy and James van Maanen at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series on an award-winning crowd-pleaser.

Tell No One (Ne le dis à personne) is a densely-plotted adaptation of an American mystery novel by Harlan Coben that drags you back and forth between the violent events related to the presumed murder of a doctor's young wife and the emergence of evidence eight years later that the woman is still alive. Dense here may be an understatement, but clearly not too much to keep the film from winning awards and packing in the French at the box office. While you're thinking that this couldn't be more different than Flandres, think again. Sadly, neither film is likely to reach much of an audience in the US. What a shame.

Alexandre Beck (François Cluzet) is a pediatrician who is haunted by the death of the woman he'd loved since the childhood they spent together near the forest of Rambouillet outside Paris. The doctor was cleared as a suspect in the crime, a charge that he still resents as he bounces from his lawyer to his equestrian sister to his grieving parents-in-law to a bald mobster (with a hemophiliac son) who protects him when the cops are persuaded once again that Alex really is the killer. The convicted murderer, whom we never see, is a serial killer who surrounds the bodies of his human victims with a garnish of dead dogs. (I guess this director saw Amores Perros.) If that isn't enough to tangle your mind, there is an equestrian sub-strand to all this - no surprise, since Guillaume Canet took up filmmaking after an injurty ended his career as a jockey. Alex's sister takes us into the realm of wealthy horsepeople, in which the son of a prominent family is a serial trust-fund rapist (played by Canet) who likes to beat up his victims. Shake well and serve.

Once the charges come back to implicate Alex, the film about a grieving husband turns into a chase (The Fugitive?), in which the doctor flees from the cops in sections of Paris that you probably won't recognize. Even his fight through Paris is chopped up with flashbacks to the time of the original crime near an isolated lake and intercut with characters who are in the midst of their own dramas.

Cluzet won a Cesar for this role as the successful everyman falsely accused of a murder who learns that justice is even farther from his grasp than logic. He plays the embattled doctor with a tautness of a man struggling to contain the anguish of losing his wife and incredulous when he is fingered as the prime suspect.

The story of an innocent man who is presumed guilty is a staple of American films, and you'll think of plenty of them here. Yet Canet avoids most of the obvious cliches. Most, but not all of them. When Alex, on the run, seeks out Bruno (Gilles Lellouche), father of the hemophiliac boy whom Alex has treated, the characters are straight out of central casting for a French music video, complete with a black Chevrolet SUV that would be a dead giveaway for any fugitive trying to lose himself in the grey fabric of of the edges of Paris. Oh yeah, it's a movie.

Don't look for much that's genuinely cinematic here. The one visual exception to the standard detective-story palette comes in the forest of Rambouillet, with characters crawling through its tall thick ferns which look pre-historic. It makes you think of the jungles in the paintings of Henri Rousseau. And don't mind the length of two hours. (The Wall Street Journal says that it's been agony for French writers to get scripts down to fifty minutes for Paris Enquete Criminelle, the forthcoming French version of Law and Order.) Tell No One held me almost until the end.

- David D'Arcy

If, according the recent Oscar ceremony here in America, the best we could come up with was The Departed, a well-crafted, cynical and pointless piece of slick junk, where in the world does that place this unusual movie? Tell No One is vastly superior in every way, if only because it offers some characters worth caring about and has believable women - and lots of them. Every bit as convoluted as the Scorsese movie, maybe more so, Guillaume Canet still manages to link the threads so we can follow along. (At one point near the finale, after one character says "There's more," the audience burst out laughing - but we gladly forged ahead.)

Though the movie deals with shocking injustice and corruption, its protagonists are caring "servers": He's a pediatrician, she's a social worker. This is pivotal to motivation and plot, as is the French-Algerian banlieue and its inhabitants, who are shown in a surprisingly rich, full manner. You may, while watching, as does the lead character while being set through his paces, thank god that they are here. Whatever their "legality" (and they're clearly involved in some nefarious doings), they act as welcome resistance to the corrupted power on display.

Mon Idole Canet, who began as an actor (and a good one: Jeux d'enfants, Joyeux Noel, L'Enfer and a small but important role in this film) seems to have learned a lot on the job. This is only his second full-length feature, and already he's won the Cesar for directing. His first outing as director was the funny, nasty, edgy and ultimately bizarre Mon Idole, which a few of us were lucky enough to view at an earlier Rendez-vous, and which has never been seen further in the US, not even on DVD. (Shameful!) To that one, which reminded me of Chabrol's Masques, Canet attaches an ending that, while at first seeming just weird, upon a moment's reflection is clearly perfect.

Now, in this second film he directs with complete aplomb an enormous international cast, including Canada's Marie-Josée Croze, England's Kristin Scott Thomas and many of France's most respected and prolific actors (Nathalie Baye and Jalil Lespert appear in relatively small roles). His handling of violence is slightly more discreet that we are currently used to and yet is done with originality and flair. He manages to incorporate tiresome genre tropes like the "chase," while making it seem original and exciting. From first to last, even though the movie is long, Canet grips you. And François Cluzet (The Horseman on the Roof, Too Beautiful for You, Chabrol's L'Enfer), who won the recent Cesar for Best Actor, is a joy to watch. He holds the movie together via his star presence and his ability to capture the character's quiet decency under extreme pressure.

Novelist Coben, who introduced the film at Rendez-vous and offered a very funny synopsis of how Hollywood treats novelists, noted that the filmmakers were happy to include him in the creative process, even though they changed the venue (quite well and believably) to France. The result is a fine example of mainstream genre filmmaking for which everyone involved should be proud. By Friday's screening, Tell No One still had no US distributor, which is perhaps the biggest mystery of all - and one that I hope will be solved very soon.

- James van Maanen

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Posted by dwhudson at March 4, 2007 9:16 AM


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Posted by: Baaar-Sum at March 4, 2007 7:01 PM

This is by far one of the best genre films to have come out of France (together with OSS 117 for the comedies), and should be seen in conjunction with Je vais bien, ne t'en fais pas, which is similar in many ways as a genre piece with dense plotting and lots of character development etc... even if that one could have been tighter (especially the hospital section). An adventurous US distrib should really pick this up (no remakes please) but since no one picked up other French genre stuff like Costa-Gavras biting black comedy Le couperet for the US either...

Posted by: Boyd at March 5, 2007 3:23 AM

MON IDOLE screened at the 2004 San Francisco International Film Festival. Guillaume Canet was in town for the screening, as well as to support LOVE ME IF YOU DARE, in which he also starred.

Posted by: Michael Hawley at March 7, 2007 10:52 PM

Mr. Hawley--
Thanks for the correction and update, I am happy to learn that "Mon Idole" garnered another audience across country. It deserves many more, and certainly a transfer to DVD that's watchable here in the U.S.

Posted by: James van Maanen at March 20, 2007 1:11 PM