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Tell No One (10/10)

by Tony Medley

Running time 125 minutes

Here’s another gem of a film that lots of people will avoid because it’s in French with subtitles. Too bad for them.

Alexandre Beck (François Cluzet) is a baby doctor whose wife, Margot (Marie-Josee Croze), was murdered eight years previously. He starts getting mysterious email messages with a picture of a woman who looks like his wife. Then the police want to reopen the investigation, accusing him of killing her.  Compounding things is his relationship with his father in law, Jacques Larentin (Andre Dusollier), who was the policeman who identified his own daughter.

Directed and written (with Phillippe Lefebvre) by Guillaume Canet (who also appears in the film as Phillippe Neuville), the film is based on Harlan Coben’s bestselling novel of the same name, which has been translated into 27 languages, and has sold over 6 million copies worldwide.

It’s always difficult to write a review of a good thriller because anything a critic writes can spoil the enjoyment of a fresh viewing without knowing what’s going on and what’s going to happen. I’ve already told too much, but the way Canet sets the ambience of the film at the start, you’d have to be dull, indeed, not to know that something pretty bad is about to happen.

Cluzet, who is a dead ringer for a young Dustin Hoffman, gives a remarkably compelling performance of a man who has lost the love of his life. The film flashes back to Alex and Margot as prepubescent children, already so much in love with each other that they exchange a sweet kiss.

Music plays a big part in most thrillers, and this is no exception. What’s unusual is that the music came from one single screening for guitarist Matthieu Chedid. Canet wanted him to play live over the movie and improvise while he was watching the film. So they had one single screening and Matthieu played along. Says Canet, “The amazing thing is that the music is an integral part of the movie. You hardly notice it but it’s the most vital element. It builds raw emotion without being omnipresent. That was one of the best artistic encounters of my life.”

Although the announced running time is 125 minutes, Canet says that the editing was extremely difficult, “One evening, I was talking with Matthieu Cheded, who said that the reason why Beatles songs are so short and so good is that they are so condensed. All that’s left is the best. That really meant something for me. The next day, in editing, I took out quarter of an hour of the film. (Film editor) Hervé de Luze found a rhythm that I really liked.”

The film was shot with two cameras with Canet operating the hand held camera himself. “That offers huge freedom to express yourself,” he says. “By going right where you want to go, it allows you to be very fluid in your handling of the actors.”

Even though there was a lot of improvisation on this film, the opening scene is the only one that wasn’t scripted. Says Canet, “The night we shot it, we had a drink and I told them it was up to them to improvise. I had a Steadycam moving round the table and told them to talk among themselves. They were free to say what they wanted. I wanted it to be alive, and for people to cut into each other’s conversations. At the beginning they panicked, but they wound up having a lot of fun.”

Only one scene was storyboarded, when Alex runs across the Paris Beltway. Says Canet, “We had one day with eight cameras to get it in the can. We were incredibly lucky. No one was hurt and we got exactly what we wanted.”

This is, by far, the best film I’ve seen this year. In French.

June 5, 2008