Tell No One
(a.k.a. Ne Le Dis A Personne)

Director: Guillaume Canet   
Francois Cluzet, Andre Dussollier, Marie-Josee Croze

Ah, the French. I think they were summed up pretty good years ago with the title of Preston Sturges' last movie, The French, They Are A Funny Race. I'm sure that, like me, you have found over the years plenty of bizarre stuff about the French. There's the fact that French men seem to like to wear long-sleeved shirts covered with zebra stripes, complete with a beret on the top of the head. Then there is the food that the French seem to relish, stuff like cow brains, snails, and frog legs. Then there is the fact that, despite the Americans saving their butts in two world wars, the French like to act snooty towards them, especially the French who are waiters. (Okay, there is the little known fact that the French gave the Americans invaluable help when the Americans were battling the British during the American Revolution... but that still means that the French still owe the Americans help in one war.) The strangeness of the French also applies when it comes to the subject of movies... at least it used to. Let me explain. There is the fact of their supposed love of Jerry Lewis. I first tested this supposed fact years ago when I was friends with Marie, a girl from France. One day I decided to tease her by saying, "Since you're from France, you must love Jerry Lewis!" I expected a negative response, seeing how she was young like me and Jerry's films were made ages ago, but to my surprise, she replied that she was indeed a fan of his, and had in fact seen a number of his films.

I remember subsequently asking her (I had done a little research beforehand, something I always do before teasing a person) why The Nutty Professor had been retitled in France as Docteur Jerry Et Mister Love instead of directly translating it as Le Professeur Fou. (She said that it wouldn't have worked, though she couldn't come up with a good explanation as to why that would be the case.) Anyway, I am sure some of you are saying, "Well, that was just one French person. Does Jerry Lewis have a bigger fan base in France as we have been lead to believe?" Having done a lot of reading on world film over the years, I can answer that question once and for all, and the answer is: Yes, at least in the past. Word of this French obsession with Jerry Lewis started to trickle across the ocean to North America around the mid 1960s, but the French obsession with Lewis started years earlier. Back in the Martin and Lewis days, Lewis' clownish behavior onscreen captivated both audiences and critics enough that Martin's efforts as a straight man were basically ignored by both groups. After the Martin and Lewis split, Lewis' eventual embrace of writing and/or directing movies just charmed the French even more. Big shot French filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard gushed about Lewis in front of and behind the camera. Godard is quoted as having said, "Jerry Lewis is the only American director who has made progressive films" and that Lewis "was much better than Chaplin and Keaton." The French critical and audience praise of Jerry went on for years, well into the '80s when Lewis acted in two French films and got the Legion Of Honor from the French government.

I realize that I may be being too hard on the people of France. After all, they were not the only ones who were extreme fans of Lewis. (For example, the awful Lewis movie Which Way To The Front? played for Tell No Onesixty-four weeks in Berlin, grossing enough to recoup its cost from that engagement alone.) And if you look at the French people today, you will see that their perspective on Lewis now is more or less how it is here: Some defenders, some scorners, and pretty much unknown to children and young adults. What am I getting to with all this talk about Lewis? Well, it's to show you that at least when it comes to film, the French have been maturing over the decades, not just with their perspectives on movies but also with the movies they actually make themselves. As you probably know, decades ago, the French made nothing but pretentious art films - not real movies. Slowly, things started to change; there were coproductions with countries that made real movies that started to make their movies entertaining, as my review of Up To His Ears will illustrate. The years continued to pass, and eventually they started making real movies on their own, like Don't Die Too Hard! Happy that they had stopped being snooty (except at restaurants), I wanted to see more of their efforts making real movies. When I saw Tell No One at the video store, I knew I had struck gold. Not only did the story it listed on the back of its box sound entertaining, I learned that it was based on a novel by American author Harlan Coben - an American story source would mean an extra chance the movie would be real.

Although the Coben novel was reportedly set in the United States, this cinematic retelling of it takes place in France. The events of the movie center around pediatrician Alexandre Beck (Cluzet). As the movie opens, he is vacationing with his beloved wife Margot in the French countryside. One night, deep in the wilderness, he hears her cries and when he rushes to find her he is knocked unconscious and stays in a coma for several days. Margot's body is found shortly afterwards, and while Alexandre is suspected, the blame is eventually blamed on a serial killer in the area and Alexandre is cleared. Eight years later, Alexandre still hasn't completely got over his loss, and his state of mind is just made worse when two bodies are dug up by construction workers in the area where Margot was killed, and Alexandre is placed under suspicion again. Then Alexandre gets an e-mail that leads to him discovering that Margot may still be alive... and things just get more complicated from there. I know what you're saying right now: "Well, that sounds good, but is this French movie a real movie?" I'm happy to report that the answer is yes; these French filmmakers added real film elements to this movie. We get full-frontal nudity (from both sexes, so no audience member will be alienated), two characters who are lesbians (any movie can be instantly improved by the adding of lesbians), guns get fired and leave bloody gun wounds, and there's a lengthy chase scene. Also, the three songs on the soundtrack are English songs, with none of that wimpy accordion-playing music that you usually hear when it comes to French music.

Although Tell No One has these and other real movie elements in it that will be familiar to those who are regular watchers of movies from the land of real films (Hollywood), I don't think that there's anyone who would mistake it for an American film. I'm not talking about the obvious stuff like the movie's dialogue being spoken in French and cars having French license plates. What I mean is that more often than not, the movie's perspective on things is much different than how American filmmakers would have done them. This includes many of the real elements. Take the chase sequence, for example. In a modern Hollywood film, there would be rapid-fire editing to the sequence as well as the energy being pumped up so heavily that the audience would not have the chance to catch their breath until it was over. Not here. The editing of this sequence is more sedate; we see the person getting chased get tired, and this realistic act adds to the tension because we feel he just might get caught. When he then has to cross a busy freeway, it appears the actor did it himself even when cars start crashing inches away from him. You wouldn't see that in a Hollywood movie. This perspective on real movie elements may not be anything new to French moviegoers, but it was new to me. I should also add that this unconventional perspective goes beyond just these elements, to improve scenes that may have come across as clichéd by a Hollywood director. When Alexandre discovers that his wife may still be alive, he does not burst into tears and make a big fuss. The years of separation have numbed him, and though he's upset about what he sees, part of him still has some doubt.

There are a lot more scenes in Tell No One that don't fall to Hollywood standards. When Alexandre confronts his policeman father-in-law in one scene for more clues about the death of their wife/daughter, there is no shouting, no forceful behavior - everyone is too upset for that. The movie's determination to show things in a different way includes the ending of the movie. I won't reveal the ending, except to say that it is an ending that will have viewers disputing amongst themselves whether it is a happy or sad ending. (Maybe it's both.) The main credit for this unconventionality and for it working has to go to director Canet, who also cowrote the screenplay. Besides giving the audience a lot of effective twists on standard scenes, he also made the mystery angle, the main part of the movie, both compelling and fairly easy to follow since it unfolds somewhat more slowly than usual. (Though I have mentioned in the past that many movie mysteries confuse me, I found this one much easier to follow than usual.) There are a few instances where viewers may be confused (like when the photographs are unearthed), but the movie eventually explains anything that may have been initially confusing. One quibble that I do have with how everything unfolds is although the slower pace is initially welcome, towards the end I was starting to get a little impatient. The movie runs over two hours long as it is; had they maybe shortened the first half of the movie (where less happens that's important), the pace wouldn't have felt so dragged out. But overall this is a solid mystery that I'm glad to tell you about.

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Check for availability of Harlan Coben's novel

See also: Brigham City, Dr. Cook's Garden, Paper Mask