Tell No One (Ne le dis à personne)
2007Director: Guillaume Canet
Cast: François Cluzet, Jean Rochefort, Kristin Scott Thomas
f all genres, the thriller has the most unruly demands. Fear and laughter seem much more reasonable feelings to elicit from strangers than the broad and rather unseemly gushing forth of unbridled excitement. Still, the thriller remains not only popular but also probably the major product from the world's most glamorous sweathouse, Hollywood. Psychological terror seems to be the item of choice, probably because it's the most sincere and exquisite form of discomfort and pleasure, watching others go mad in our place. Certainly Canet’s latest film is the most deliciously enjoyable thriller for a long time, perhaps the best of its kind since The Usual Suspects.
The particulars go something like this: Eight years ago, Margot and Alex were attacked while night-swimming in the countryside. Later than night, Margot turns up dead and Alex begins an interminable period of grief and regret. In the present day, just as it seems Alex has come to terms with that night, he receives an anonymous e-mail with a link to a video-surveillance web-cam and a time when to watch it. On the live-stream he catches a glimpse of a woman. Impossibly, it’s Margot. The opening fifteen minutes offer a tantalizing premise that is duly delivered.
The complex but uncomplicated storytelling has to it a mechanical pleasure. Watching the meticulously scripted turn of events unfold is a kind of automatic experience, like the workings of an unfathomable invention that will ultimately force its working parts to produce an entirely different thing, separate from itself: an answer. The director seems to have grasped the fundamental purpose of the thriller here, which is simply to find the most exciting route possible to the inevitable point of revelation. Such revelation is an escape from the prison of secrecy and confusion that the film so confidently constructs around the unsuspecting viewer. Canet achieves this largely through a mix of well-rounded characters, fine acting and, most importantly of all, the vast romantic desire at the core of the film.
There can be no doubt that the oblivious pull in the film—dragging Alex from his morbid past through the uncertainties of his present and toward the possibilities of the future—is love. For a filmmaker of undoubted ambition and considerable talent, Canet shows a certain amount of courage in allowing the film to dip its toe into the choppy waters of romance. He has left himself open to accusations of sentimentality. Admittedly these cries could only come from critics without hearts, but such sorry souls, it should be remembered, are in abundance.
All thrillers are convoluted, weaving as they will a taut but thin layer of incredulity over the epic tedium of reality. There are bound to be a few creases and folds before it comfortably settles. Tell No One isn't any different: it too must explain, because, ultimately it is correct in assuming we cannot put the pieces together ourselves and, thank God, it hasn't offered them to us.
The entropy of the events within the film is gloriously frustrating. It’s like being locked out of your home and peering in through a greasy window. A vicarious pleasure can be gained from viewing a destruction you can't quite grasp. Alex chases the truth, fumbling through the events of his relationship and his life as if they were files in a dusty old room. We look over his shoulder and gawp at his face during his weakest moments, stepping from his comfort zone and placing himself, as the existential detective must, in a position of perpetual danger.
Tell No One is most reminiscent of Nicolas Refn’s Fear X: a relationship, long ended by apparent tragedy seems to live on regardless of the absence of its participants. Thankfully, Canet invests his film with something Refn has no stomach for: hope. This is what makes the film as impressive as it unarguably is, the sense of purpose, the basic and undeniably winning theme that love has an inexplicable power and reach—that it can provide a material solution to metaphysical crises. Deny it if you like, but that's what we all secretly want to believe.
The film, bursting with incident and some classic setups and chase sequences (generous deposits to the genre bank), is a classic of its type. Shot with what might be described as the forensic eye of the crime thriller, the movie (for this is what it is, French or otherwise) is dangerously flawless. The dialogue snaps like a toe-tag and the violence thuds like a slammed door. Although this kind of filmmaking is often described as old fashioned, the multilayered awareness and super evolution of the film as a genre-piece makes me believe that it could only have emerged today. Catch it before it slips into the past.
Tell No One is currently in limited release.