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August 27, 2008

Film Review - French thriller ‘Tell No One’ is a solid import

(Starring François Cluzet, Marie-Josée Croze, Andre Dussollier, Kristin Scott Thomas and Francois Berléand. Directed by Guillaume Canet. UR; 2:05. LEO Report Card: B+)

Maybe it’s just me, but have all the good non-action movies been outsourced? The Japanese and Koreans dominate horror movies. The Brits and Chinese give us the good gangster pictures. The latter also give us some good romances. Germans have made some great period pieces lately. And the French continue to nurture a first-rate tradition of thrillers and mysteries.

About a month ago, Village 8 showed “Roman de Gare,” famed director Claude Lelouch’s new mystery; it was astoundingly over-the-top, slyly self-referential and also rather good. The other Claude — France’s septuagenarian Hitchcock, Claude Chabrol — has a movie that’s just hitting the United States. “Tell No One,” opening this weekend at the Village 8 as part of its ongoing “Louisville Exclusives” series, was a hugely successful murder mystery across Europe, not just its native France. (That it’s just now being released in the States with such little fanfare is another mystery entirely.)

Director Guillaume Canet’s movie begins with Alex (François Cluzet) and Margot (Marie-Josée Croze) rollicking in their own Eden — married, deeply in love and, now that he’s out of med school, pondering their future as a family. But while visiting their childhood home, Margot is abducted and murdered, and Alex is beaten unconscious. A notorious serial killer is blamed and eventually convicted for that crime (among others), but doubt lingers. 

Emotionally, Alex never recovers, but he tries to get on with his life. Eight years later, when two bodies are recovered near the scene of the crime, that night comes crashing back. From here, “Tell No One” morphs into a psychological drama: certainties erode, memories deceive and tables are turned. It’s somewhere along the lines of Hitchcock’s “I Confess” or “The Wrong Man,” with a fair bit of “The Fugitive” thrown in for good measure. 

Alex finds friends in surprising places: his sister’s lesbian lover (Kristin Scott Thomas), a smalltime French street tough, a pain-in-the-ass cop. Although based on a novel by American writer Harlan Coben, Canet’s translation provides an interesting overview of French society. 

Sociology aside, “Tell No One” isn’t a terribly innovative film; its strength is in its consistency, not its ambition. The film is the type of solid, sometimes overly sentimental genre thriller that America used to turn out in great numbers. Many, but not nearly enough, clues are presented to the audience. While the resolution is a bit tough to swallow, it’s satisfying. Everything is neatly explained, and at gunpoint no less. 

Compared with domestic products, “Tell No One” is a work of staggering genius (remember last year’s “I Know Who Killed Me”?). Cluzet is mesmerizing, and Canet’s direction is lean and tense. But compared with the other thrillers we’re importing, this is merely good.