Tell No One (Ne le dis à personne)


Francois Cluzet is late for the bus.

Francois Cluzet is late for the bus.

(2006) Suspense (Music Box) Francois Cluzet, Marie-Josee Croze, Andre Dussollier, Kristin Scott Thomas, Francois Berleand, Nathalie Baye, Jean Rochefort, Marina Hands, Gilles Lellouche, Philippe Lefebvre, Florence Thomassin, Olivier Marchal, Guillaume Canet, Brigitte Catillon, Samir Guesmi, Jean-Pierre Lorit, Jalil Lespert, Eric Savin. Directed by Guillaume Canet

One of the joys of a good thriller is that you don’t always know where it’s taking you. Getting there is half the fun; figuring out how you got there before you actually show up – priceless.

Alex Beck (Cluzet) and his wife Margot (Croze) have been sweethearts since they were children. Alex, a pediatrician, loves his wife with a passion but things aren’t all roses and soda pop; for one thing, this is France so it’s roses and wine thank you very much.

 

They’re on vacation in an idyllic lake setting and they get into one of those silly, meaningless arguments that married couples sometimes have. They are on a float in the middle of the lake; Margot takes off swimming for shore in a huff. A short time later, Alex hears her bloodcurdling scream. Terrified, he swims like an Olympian for shore but once he gets there, he is hit in the head, hard enough to put him in a coma for several days, and falls back into the water.

When he comes to, he discovers that Margot is missing and presumed dead. Worse yet, he is presumed to be her killer. The damning thing is actually his head wound; he was comatose but when discovered he was on the dock, not in the water. If he was in a coma how did he get there?

Alex has no explanation. He’s devastated – despite the fight his wife was everything. Seven years pass and Alex continues to be a shattered man going through the motions of life. However, he has never really escaped the murder as police still think he did it but can’t prove it. When two bodies are found in a shallow grave near where Margot was last seen, the old charges are brought up again. More disturbing still, Alex gets an e-mail with video depicting a woman who looks like Margot only a little older and begging him to “tell no one.” Is Margot still alive? Or is the killer messing with Alex in an attempt to further destroy him?

 

This is a story worthy of Hitchcock although it was actually written not by a Frenchman but by an American mystery author named Harlan Coben. From pretty much the opening scene you are on the edge of your seat and once this thing really gets going you feel like you’re on one of those teacup rides only without the vertigo. Canet constructs this beautifully and manages to cram an awful lot of story into two hours running time.

The hangdog Cluzet makes an excellent lead actor here. His anguish is apparent and his desperation equally so. He is being chased by the cops and like a trapped animal he does what it takes to survive. There is a chase scene through the streets of Paris which is as good as any action film chase you have ever seen and should be a must-see for any aspiring filmmaker who wants to film one. It is taut, dramatic, exciting and innovative without rewriting the whole book of chase scenes.

There is a great cast of supporting characters from Alex’ lesbian sister (Hands) to his lawyer (Baye) to his sister’s lover (Thomas) to a corrupt politician (Rochefort) to a sympathetic detective (Berleand) to his suspicious father-in-law (Dussollier) to a helpful criminal (Lellouche). Each of these is well-developed beyond being means to an end within the plot even though that’s what they essentially are. However, you never know for the most part how they are going to fit into the puzzle.

 

And that’s really what Tell No One is to be honest – a nice, big jigsaw puzzle. While it isn’t always easy to figure out and the ending is a bit of a cheat with characters surfacing near the very end who take the plot in unexpected directions, this is still absolute must-viewing for any aficionado of the suspense/thriller genre. Don’t let the subtitles scare you; there’s plenty else in the movie that will make your heart beat faster as it is.

WHY RENT THIS: Extremely taut. Cluzet makes for an everyman kind of hero. Takes unexpected turns.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Hard to follow in places.
FAMILY VALUES: A smattering of violence, a fair amount of foul language and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The novel this was based on was originally offered to Hollywood, but author Harlan Coben was contacted by Canet who, Coben says, understood that the story was a thriller second and a love story first; therefore when the option fell through, Coben  awarded it to Canet instead. With the success of the Canet version, Hollywood has now optioned the novel where it sits currently in development hell.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s an outtakes reel on the Blu-Ray edition.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $33.4M on a $15M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Stream), Amazon (rent/buy), iTunes (rent/buy), Amazon (rent/buy), Vudu (rent/buy)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cache (Hidden)
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: If I Stay

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Wild Grass (Les herbes folles)


Wild Grass

Sabine Azema realizes that she’s lost the winning lotto ticket.

(2009) Drama (Sony Classics) Sabine Azema, Andre Dussollier, Anne Consigny, Emmanuelle Devos, Mathieu Amalric, Michel Vuillermoz, Edouard Baer (voice), Annie Cordy, Sara Forestier, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Vladimir Consigny, Dominique Rozan, Candice Charles. Directed by Alain Resnais

 

There are those that say things happen for a reason. Others say that life is a series of happy (or unhappy accidents), that everything is random chance. For them, life is a series of small miracles of cause and reaction.

Marguerite Muir is a dentist who has unusually sized feet. Finding shoes in her size is for her a bit tricky and often painful. She stops in a shoe store while on a lunch break and discovers, wonder of wonders and miracle of miracles, a pair that fits. She is so giddy when she leaves the shop that she fails to notice what’s happening around her and her purse is snatched.

Georges Palet is closer to sixty than to fifty and is unemployed. His life has been colored by a dark secret in his past, one that haunts him in everything he does. While he is married to Suzanne (A. Consigny), there is something missing. He finds Marguerite’s wallet with her ID. He wants to return it to her personally, but that proves to be too much of a logistical difficulty. He winds up turning it into the police from whom she picks it up.

Feeling a bit guilty at her ingratitude, she calls up Georges to make amends. A series of awkward conversations follow and soon the two begin to feel more comfortable around each other. Georges has a thing about aviation. She’s an amateur pilot. Soon, a kind of friendship ensues. Suzanne is pulled into the maelstrom, as is Marguerite’s closest friend and business partner Josepha (Devos).

Director Alain Resnais, one of the greatest of all French directors and auteur of such classics as Last Year at Marienbad, Hiroshima mon amour  and Mon oncle d’Amerique, was 87 when this was filmed and hasn’t lost a beat. There’s nothing stodgy here, although one figures that in another epoch Resnais might have used younger actors. Both Georges and Marguerite are in their 50s here and the viewpoint is different than might be if the characters were in their 20s or 30s.

This is in some ways a maddening film. There is much left unspoken – what event in Georges past haunts him so much in the present day, for example and yet there is an intrusive voiceover by Baer that sometimes goes in a whimsical direction, changing mood and one suspects, the storyline itself. In fact, there is a sense that the narrator is making things up and not necessarily telling us what really “happened.” That gives the film the sense of a story someone is telling you, brought to life. That’s an interesting sensation, but ultimately unsatisfying from a cinematic viewpoint.

On the plus side, this is one of the more beautifully filmed movies that I’ve seen recently. Ranging from pleasant home gardens, slick neon-lit cityscapes and barren landscapes, every image seems to reinforce the mood of the film. Mark Isham’s jazzy score also nicely reinforces the mood.

Azema and Dussollier are both veterans of Resnais’ films, and both seem to know instinctively what their director wants of them. The two have a comfortable chemistry, no doubt fostered by the director who lets the two actors inhabit their roles nicely.

Unfortunately, the movie also illustrates one of my pet peeves about auteur cinema – the tendency to sacrifice story for form. The movie then becomes about the packaging and not what’s inside it; when art becomes Art, it usually means that there is some self-indulgence going on.

This isn’t the easiest movie to sit through. It tends to give you too much detail about things you don’t care about and not enough about things you do care about. That can be frustrating for the viewer. Are the rewards worth the frustrations in the end? That really kind of depends on how much of an investment of time and thought you want to put into the movie, and that kind of depends on how inspired you are by the characters and the story. In my case, not really as much as I wanted to be.

WHY RENT THIS: Beautifully filmed and well-acted. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Overbearing narration. Sometimes too artsy-fartsy for its own good.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the thematic material is on the mature side. There are also a few bad words scattered throughout as well as some smoking.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actor Roger Pierre appeared in a cameo role as an elderly dental patient, espousing that this would be his last visit to the dentist that he’d ever need. The actor passed away shortly after filming was completed.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a featurette about production designer Jacques Saulnier.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $4.6M on a $14M production budget; unfortunately, the movie didn’t make back its production costs during its theatrical run.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Valet

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: Mother and Child

Micmacs (Micmacs à tire-larigot)


Micmacs

The wild world of the Micmacs.

(2009) Crime Comedy (Sony Classics) Dany Boon, Andre Dussollier, Nicolas Marie, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Yolande Moreau, Julie Ferrrier, Omar Sy, Dominique Pinon, Michel Cremades, Marie-Julie Baup, Urbain Cancelier, Patrick Paroux. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet

For the most part we have to pick our battles. Getting upset over little things is a sure way to angina. However, some offenses require a response, preferably one which is justified by the offense. When the offender is rich and powerful, it requires a great deal of shenanigans to get even.

Bazil (Boon) is a sad sack video clerk whose father was killed by a land mine when Bazil was a boy. He steps out of his video store one night to investigate a commotion and is promptly shot in the head, the bullet lodging in his brain. The surgeon is left with the choice of removing the bullet which might well render Bazil into a vegetative state or to leave it in with the possibility that the bullet might kill him at any moment. The surgeon, not the most decisive of men, flips a coin and the bullet remains where it is.

When Bazil recovers, he discovers he’s been fired from the video store (and given the shell casing from his shooting as a parting gift) and evicted from his apartment. Homeless, he tries to earn his way by stealing (which makes him feel too guilty) and by being a street performer (which he kind of sucks at). Despondent, he meets Slammer (Marielle) who brings him into a cave created in a trash dump where a group of misfits, presided over Mama Chou (Moreau), so named because she does the cooking.

Also in the troupe are Elastic Girl (Ferrier), a contortionist; Remington (Sy) who speaks only in hoary old clichés; Buster (Pinon), a human cannonball; Tiny Pete (Cremades) who creates amazing Rube Goldberg-esque machines and Calculator (Baup) who can measure and calculate things with a single glance.

While out scavenging, Bazil discovers that the arms makers responsible for the land mine that killed his father and the bullet embedded in his skull have factories directly across from one another and are the greatest of rivals, each one suspicious of the other. Bazil sees a marvelous opportunity to pit one against the other, Marconi (Marie) against de Fenouillet (Dussollier). It will take meticulous planning and the unusual skills of the Micmacs to pull it off.

Jeunet has a marvelous visual sense as shown in Amelie and City of Lost Children. He doesn’t use a lot of CGI (although he does digitally manipulate the color and composition of certain scenes) but he has a love for things that are quirky and a sense of humor that recalls the exploits of silent comics like Chaplin, Keaton and to a lesser extent Jacques Tati.

Boon is amazing here. He is one of the top comic actors not just in France but anywhere. He has a very expressive face and impeccable timing for his physical stunts. He is the heart and soul of the movie and stands in for every little guy who ever stood up to the man.

Those who love the inventions of Rube Goldberg will be in heaven here. Some of Tiny Pete’s sculptures are a hoot. Those who love French comedy will also be in heaven. Some of the jokes take a sub-orbital flight over the heads of the mainstream American audiences but by and large the humor here is universal.

There is a bit of an allegory going on about might versus right, but the substance is surprisingly light. It’s quirky and eccentric like the aunt who wears too much lipstick and talks way too loudly. It has a terrific imagination and while it didn’t do gangbusters box office business, it still is worth checking out for adventurous viewers.

WHY RENT THIS: Incredibly charming and clever and Boon is one of the great screen comedians working today.  The Rube Goldberg devices are inventive.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The sense of humor is very broad and some of the French pop culture references might go over American heads.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of sexuality and some violence, as well as a few adult themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Jeunet has said that the film’s characters were defined by counterparts in Toy Story.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a Q&A session from the Tribeca Film Festival with director Jeunet and actress Ferrier, and also a feature on the progression of animations of the deaths of famous figures from history shown during the film.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $16.3M on a $40M production budget; the movie didn’t make back its initial investment during its theatrical run.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Killer Inside Me