Film : Stylish French thriller
A 2006 Belgian-made French thriller, "Tell No One" ("Ne Dis a Personne"), takes Hitchcock's Wrong-Man theme and runs with it in complicated and intriguing ways. The Martha's Vineyard Film Society will screen the movie Saturday, Nov. 8, at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven.
Alexandre Beck (Francois Cluzet, a dead ringer for Daniel Auteuil) is a happily married pediatrician. The viewer meets him and his wife Margot (Marie-Josée Crose) at a gathering of friends and family, including Alex's sister, Anne, and her lover, Hélene (Kristin Scott-Thomas), as well as Margot's best friend, Charlotte. Understanding who is who right from the start is important in keeping up with the many twists and turns of a hard-to-follow plot with many characters.
Alex and Margot are visiting the country farm of an idyllic childhood that first brought them together. When a spat follows their nude swim to a moonlit raft, Margot heads back to shore alone. Alex hears her cry out and plunges into the water. As soon as he climbs onto the shoreline dock, he's knocked unconscious.
Eight years later, Alex still mourns his wife, believed murdered by a serial killer. Police have just uncovered the bodies of two dead men on the farm property, and suddenly Alex becomes a suspect in his wife's murder.
A bloody bat found with the bodies should exonerate him, if it has his DNA on it and proves he was hit with it. But a key found on one of the bodies fits Margot's safety deposit box, where police find photos of her covered with bruises and a gun that seem to implicate him.
If you're a French film buff, you'll recognize some of France's most skilled actors in supporting roles. Nathalie Baye plays Alex's lawyer; André Dussollier, his father-in-law; Francois Berléand, the quirky police investigator; Eric Levkowitch; and Jean Rochefort, the wealthy horse lover.
Based on the 2001 American bestseller by Harlan Coben who helped write the script, "Tell No One" becomes delectably Gallic in filmmaker Guillaume Canet's hands. He directs with such style, the cinematography is so well done, the music so on-point and the acting so polished that viewers will stay on the edges of their seats even when logic cautions about plausibility. The plot construction is not as clean as Hitchcock would have made it, but the director keeps the viewer guessing with flashbacks, dream sequences and handsome, overhead tracking shots.
Watch for two priceless set pieces. While they are standing on a sidewalk, Levkowitch questions Hélene, who is Alex's confidante as well as his sister's lover and has paid for his lawyer. Hélene abruptly interrupts the interrogation, walks across the street and gets a passerby to light her cigarette. The superb Ms. Scott-Thomas - who has lived in France for many years -carries off this bit of business with superb aplomb.
In the second, an endless chase scene outdoes any American film in recent history. With the police closing in on him, Alex jumps out his office window; ends up in an open market; crosses a busy highway, dodging cars like a dancer; and lands in a rat-infested dumpster, making a call on his cell phone. Someone unexpected comes to the rescue.
Along the way, a series of enigmatic emails has been keeping Alex and the viewers guessing about whether his wife is really dead. Some particularly noxious bad guys are also chasing Alex and kill off Margot's best friend.
Meanwhile, Alex decides to investigate more closely the circumstances of Margot's death. He visits his in-laws, the coroner, the family farm, a gangster with a strange connection to Margot, and a seedy lawyer. Even Alex's dog plays a role in unraveling the mystery.
So many characters figure in the plot, and it takes so many twists that "Tell No One" needs extra time at the dénouement to tie everything together. Tie them together it does, though, with an ending as improbably fun and French as it gets.
"Tell No One," Saturday, Nov. 8, 7:30 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. Tickets $8; $5 for Martha's Vineyard Film Society members. Doors open at 7 pm.
Brooks Robards regularly writes on films, books, and art for The Martha's Vineyard Times.