26 August 2008

Tell No One

Directed by: Guillaume Canet
Written by: Guillaume Canet & Philippe Lefebvre
Full credits at IMDb

A twisty thriller, alluring like an episode of Unsolved Mysteries (but without the recreations), about a man (François Cluzet) whose dead wife might not be dead after all, Tell No One (Ne Le Dis à Personne ), is a bit routine—“the movie equivalent of a beach book,” as Maitland McDonagh wrote—with its Hitchcockian innocent man on the run. But for a while it works as a poor man’s Vertigo because Canet directs with an élan that separates the film from the Harrison Ford vehicles it so conspicuously resembles.

The director generates a few lovely scenes of stinging contrast: cutting between a boy & girl in a honey-colored flashback and the girl’s dead adult-body as it’s fed to the crematory fire; printing the image of applauding guests at a wedding over the somber faces of funeral attendees. But the real attraction is the director’s addiction to small details, the authentic touches that permeate the film, coming together to reveal an extensive portrait of all levels of contemporary France. For at least the first hour, no character in Tell No One is ever just sitting around: a photographer is introduced taking pictures of a young man in a rubber duck tube, holding up its neck as though it’s his “thingy” and making as if to lick it; detectives are shown arguing over recycling regulations; a police chase ends in a race riot. Outside of the high-end restaurants where Cluzet takes his meals, Tell No One’s France looks like little but a gang-ridden war zone or the eccentrics-capital of the world.

But for every one of its virtues, the film has a failing to match. Canet takes some shortcuts, like the one cop who believes in Cluzet’s innocence or the gangster with The Godfather tattoo who has the doc’s back. (That’ll come in handy!) But Tell No One’s real downfall, its inexcusable shortcoming, is its last half, which succumbs to the Gone Baby Gone dilemma, drawing the narrative to a near standstill as various characters sit around and wrap up the plot, which has by now become convolutedly draining. It ties up ends you didn’t even know were loose. Adding insult to injury, scary themes, like the return of the repressed or the idea that we don’t know our loved ones as well as we think, are cast aside for more comfortable and doughy ideas of wish-fulfillment, like: you know that terrible thing that happened to you once? Nah, it didn’t really happen. Or, the government might be corrupt, but at least your wife ain’t. (And, don’t worry, “it’ll work out”.) In the end, Tell No One is no triumph as some critics have claimed , just a diversionary end-of-summer time-killer, preparing the audience, with its third act disappointments, for the letdown that is autumn—Mother Nature’s annually problematic third act. Grade: B-

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