Tell No One / Ne le Dis à Personne : Boozehound Cinephile / Ted Boynton
Film Reviews | August 22, 2008 | Comments ()
Pop Culture Item Consumed: Tell No One née Ne le Dis à Personne, a French mystery/thriller from director Guillaume Canet. Somehow this one slipped past us and has not been reviewed, but it is still available in art house theaters. Considering that Tell No One is the best 2008 release I’ve seen, I highly recommend it. Here’s the Boozehound’s list so far:
1) Tell No One
2) Iron Man (face reality, haters)
3) The Dark Knight
4) The Wackness
5) Frozen River
894) Sex and the City
1,894) Mamma Mia
Okay, I haven’t really seen that last one.
Beverage Consumed: About three-quarters of a pint bottle of Wild Turkey — in fairness to me, the film runs a little over two hours. Sorry to repeat bourbon on you, but I get a sense of satisfaction from sneaking whiskey into movies, and not everyone provides a pint option. (Suck it, Blanton’s.) Wild Turkey mixes with damn near anything — I’ve drunk it with at least 20 other liquids, including my own vomit — and the crescent curve in the pint bottle nestles neatly around my wiener for commando smuggling operations. See, it’s a really big crescent shape in the bottle ….
Summary of Action: How much do you love those random bits of circumstance that result in your not having that grim Thursday-Friday work thing you dreaded for weeks? Thursday morning, 10:00 a.m., I officially confirmed my freedom through the weekend; time for a movie treat. Tell No One has received surprising critical props, and beyond that I knew nothing about it. The last time I went into a film knowing virtually nothing about its cast, plot, or production, The Wackness blew the top of my head off. Worst case is a Thursday afternoon spent drunk and not working. Even another viewing of Crash would be acceptable on those terms.
Tell No One, a taut thriller with a dark, sentimental heart, took me utterly by surprise in the best way. As the story opens, French pediatrician Alex Beck (François Cluzet) enjoys an evening in the countryside with his wife Margot, relaxing over dinner with friends and family, then re-visiting a childhood memory with some husband-and-wife skinny-dipping at a nearby lake. Years before, a prepubescent Alex wooed young Margot there, carving their initials and a heart into a tree. After adult Alex and Margot fondly visit this tender memorial, they swim and lie tenderly on a float in the lake until a minor squabble sends her back to the car. Moments later, Margot cries out for Alex. As he swims toward her voice with panicky strokes and emerges from the water, Alex takes a blow to the head and blacks out.
Cut to eight years later. Margot died that night, apparently at the hands of a serial killer who claimed seven other victims in the area. Alex joylessly but diligently works at his medical practice, a benevolent force for the children in his care, though internally he’s still burrowing through insurmountable grief over his wife’s death. Initially a suspect in Margot’s death eight years before, Alex saw the serial killer convicted of her murder. Subsequently Alex constructed a shell of normalcy, earning the trust of his patients’ frightened parents, taking solace in the companionship of his beautiful Briard dog, and socializing almost exclusively with his sister Anne (Marina Hands) and her lesbian partner Hélène (Kristin Scott Thomas). (Yes, Kristin Scott Thomas plays a hot lesbian who speaks flawless French. And that’s only the fifth best reason to see Tell No One.)
As the anniversary of Margot’s murder nears, Alex begins receiving mysterious e-mails relating to Margot; first a video clip purporting to show her alive in another country, apparently trying to signal him, then an invitation strongly implying that she wants to meet him the next day at a nearby park — with a cryptic warning that “they are watching.” Just as these events unfold, the police begin probing Margot’s murder anew in response to newly discovered photos, taken months before the murder, showing a battered and bruised Margot and suggesting serious domestic violence against her not long before her death. At the same time, a pair of male bodies turns up in the woods around the lake where Margot was kidnapped, bearing DNA evidence potentially tying Alex to the murder.
As the fragile calm of Alex’s world disintegrates, so does his perspective on Margot. Making his own inquiries into the source of the photos, he learns from the friend who took them that Margot had hidden her injuries from Alex, lying to him that she was in a car accident. As Alex presses forward, it begins to appear that infidelity on Margot’s part led to a serious beating from her lover, though the confusing circumstances of her death only become murkier with each new piece of information.
As Alex pushes his own inquiries, it becomes clear that someone other than the police wants to pin Margot’s death on Alex. Alex soon finds himself stalked by strangers, framed for a second murder, and forced to go on the run, not only to find out what happened, but to keep his date with the mysterious e-mailer who may be his long lost wife. After the initial shock of learning that Margot might be alive, Alex seeks out close friend and confidante Hélène, his sister’s lover, who connects him with an influential defense attorney and helps him work through the puzzle of Margot’s whereabouts. (As we discuss Kristin Scott Thomas, let’s set boners on “inadvertently knock over vase.”) Thomas has never looked more beautiful than here, wearing her years with wistful grace and providing a decade’s worth of exposition about Alex’s life with only a few scattered, murmured comments. Among the many fine qualities of Tell No One is its treatment of Hélène and Anne as an utterly ordinary couple, sharing a child, engaging in petty squabbles — their lesbian relationship is never explained or justified but is treated just as a heterosexual relationship would be in comparable circumstances. It just is, and that’s a confident signal of mature writing and directing.
After the frame-up, Alex flees and calls on the one acquaintance who can help him operate in such an environment: Bruno (Gilles Lellouche), the young gangster father of a hemophiliac child. Bruno owes Alex a deep debt after Alex not only diagnosed Bruno’s son but saved Bruno from false charges of child abuse relating to the boy’s suspicious bruising. That may be the only crime Bruno was ever falsely accused of, however, as he quickly and professionally shows his underworld connections in setting Alex on the road to answers about Margot. Lellouche does excellent work selling Bruno as a tough thug with a soft spot for his kid, and equally important, for anyone who helps his kid.
Tell No One presents a dazzling example of embracing genre conventions while also elevating them. Clearly influenced by films such as Caché and The Fugitive, Tell No One elects not to strain to find detours around genre tropes, instead choosing simply to de-emphasize them while respecting the viewer with plausible but unobtrusive stepping stones to propel the story. For example, instead of fumbling around for an original reason to suspect Alex in Margot’s death — when, really, all that matters is establishing that he is a suspect — there is a brief reference to a large life insurance policy. This fundamental yet inessential point is buried within a sequence that acts as a subtle commentary on Alex’s relationship with the police, as we learn that they initially focused so closely on Alex following Margot’s disappearance that they neglected an opportunity to catch the killer while Margot was still alive. The subtle indictment of their zeal to convict Alex provides a compelling justification for Alex’s decision to run as soon as he is accused, despite the doubts it casts on his innocence.
In the meantime, Tell No One leads us on a wild chase through a careening plot, hitting the suspense formula marks only in service to the downhill thrills between the turns, occasionally dotting the proceedings with small but resonant bits of action. Tell No One also works well as an ensemble piece in the spirit of Lantana, with a uniformly excellent cast where each character holds an important piece of the narrative puzzle, their conversations flowing in a natural way while maintaining the shifting intrigue of each character’s involvement in the unfolding story. That said, Cluzet is a revelation as Alex, owning the film. Advance reviews pegged him as a Dustin Hoffman lookalike, and that’s apt as far as his physicality goes. His overall presence, however, presents a mysterious amalgam of a blade-like Gallic countenance with David Strathairn studiousness. With piercing eyes and a profound scowl, Cluzet inhabits every moment of every frame he’s in, speaking in short bursts or simply remaining silent, yet filling his scenes with a magnetism of grief, turning to bewilderment, turning to grim determination.
While the resolution of Tell No One necessarily provides a surprise, there’s no gimmicky “twist for the sake of a twist” ending. We know almost from the start that something isn’t right about the official version of Margot’s death; it’s merely a matter of figuring out where the bizarre trail of clues and deception will lead. The last half-hour of the film presents one of the most affecting combinations of suspense and moving character resolution that I’ve seen in years, ending with a genuinely earned emotional wallop that you may see coming but that will still sweep you up and shake you.
Despite all that I’ve said, I can’t do justice to the impact this movie had on me. Tell No One is a beautiful example of filmmaking craftsmanship, incredibly entertaining, deeply moving, and well worth a trip to the cinema. As a bonus, if you go this weekend the theater will probably be empty, so you can enjoy your whiskey in peace.
How the Pairing Held Up: Drinking whiskey in a dark, empty theater at 2:00 p.m. on a weekday? Even if it’s not porn, you can’t go wrong with that.
Tastes Like: Accepting warm whiskey and cigarette smoke from Kristin Scott Thomas’s mouth during a deep tongue kiss. Bwuh, I just Pajiba’ed myself.
Overall Rating: A perfect, perfect ten.
Ted Boynton is a dedicated sot who would leave his barstool only to stalk Whit Stillman, if anyone could find Whit Stillman. Ted also manages to hold down a job and a wife, three hours each per day, whether they need it or not. Readers may scold, hector, admonish or taunt Ted by e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.