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Foreign Objects: Tell No One

Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week to highlight films worth visiting. So renew your passport, get your shots, and brush up on the local age of legal consent, this week we’re heading to… France!
By  · Published on July 16th, 2008

Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week to highlight films worth visiting. So, renew your passport and get your shots because this week we’re heading to France for Tell No One.

The last time we visited these shores it was to review Inside, part of the new wave of French gore-thrillers that includes High Tension, Frontier(s), and the upcoming Martyrs. Films like these seem to be all the rage with the frogs these days, so I wondered if they could handle a more delicate type of thriller that relied more on smart twists and performances and less on bloodshed. (Okay, I didn’t really wonder that at all, but if you’re interested, the answer is yes. And technically speaking, the last French film I reviewed was The Diving Bell & the Butterfly, but that didn’t really suit my opening premise.)

If you look up Ne le dis a personne in a French-to-English dictionary, you’ll find a listing for Tell No One, and it’ll be defined as being the epitome of a Hitchcockian thriller. Never mind that “Hitchcockian” isn’t a word and that a dictionary of all places should know better, just go with me here. Wikipedia lists thirteen characteristics that can define a film as Hitchcockian. I won’t bore you with the list, but Tell No One contains at least seven of those elements which I believe bolsters my claim a wee bit wouldn’t you say? An innocent man accused of a crime, untrustworthy characters, unbearable tension, an average Joe in an extraordinary situation… the list goes on. Plus the director appears on screen!

Tell No One opens with one of only a few scenes of relaxation and bliss, friends gathered around a table enjoying good food and good company. Soon Alexandre Beck (Francoise Cluzet) and his wife Margot (Marie-Josee Croze) are heading off to a secluded lake they first frequented as children for some skinny-dipping fun. The couple is attacked, Margot is kidnapped and murdered, and Alexandre ends up in a three-day coma. Eight years later, Alex is a successful doctor who has put the events behind him but has yet to move on romantically. When two bodies are discovered near where he and his wife were attacked, old wounds are made to bleed once again. The police find renewed interest in Alex as a suspect, a brutally violent group of thugs (and one manly thugette) starts following him, and a mysterious email arrives offering the possibility that Margot may actually still be alive…

Based on the bestselling novel by American author Harlan Coben, Tell No One is the kind of intelligent suspense film that Hollywood rarely makes anymore. It sounds uppity and elitist, but unfortunately, it’s too true. This isn’t necessarily a dig solely at American films, however, as films worldwide often choose to forgo complicated thoughts and resolutions in favor of gunfights and car chases. Tell No One has a couple of minor instances of gunplay and one exhilarating chase, but in a two-hour movie, they’re the exception. The plot is deep and twisting with multiple characters and red herrings, and truth be told if you stop and look too closely some of the intricately connected storylines may come loose. What plot holes exist are minor and easily forgivable as once the first email arrives you’re swept up in Alex’s quest not only for the truth but for his love as well. And remarkably, Tell No One is as much love story as it is a mystery. Coben’s books often remind me of Dean Koontz’s non-supernatural thrillers, with plots so precise and intricate that filmmakers must have no idea what to do with them.

Directed by popular French actor, Guillaume Canet, Tell No One is populated by fantastic performances, big and small. Cluzet is brilliant as Alex, a man forced to suffer multiple emotionally draining experiences and revelations, and Croze is beautiful and conflicted even with limited screen time. The supporting cast is huge and equally impressive. Kristin Scott Thomas shines as Alex’s lesbian sister-in-law (and she answers the question of where she’s been for the past few years… in France apparently), Francois Berleand plays a wily police inspector that puts his similar role from the Transporter series to shame, the list goes on… Also worth mentioning is the film’s music. Many American songs appear, some of which seem wildly out of place at first, only to realize how perfect they actually are afterward. The score by Mathieu Chedid is simple at times, evocative and driving at others, but always ideally suited for the highs and lows on screen.

Overly complex? Perhaps, but never dull. Here’s hoping a US studio will take the plunge with one of Coben’s other thrillers (or better yet, maybe one of Koontz’s similarly deep, carefully constructed, brilliantly written, and engaging bestsellers… that also look a bit shaky if you dwell on the details too long.) Tell No One premiered in 2006, and was a huge hit in France, but is only now receiving a proper US theatrical release. The film is a multiple award winner, including four Cesars (the French equivalent of our Oscars.) And if nothing I’ve said so far has encouraged you to see the film, how about this… the ‘Plot Keywords’ line on IMDB’s main page for the film includes the term “Crotch Shot.”

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.