Friday, 10 August 2007

tell no one (dir canet)

Every year, it seems, a foreign language film 'crosses over' and against the odds grabs a sizeable chunk of UK film revenue. Examples that come to mind include Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Cinema Paradiso, In The Mood for Love, Amelie, and most surprisingly, Hidden. British cinematic culture tends not to be too forgiving of other languages (of various forms), and the films that manage to have an impact in the UK market are by and large too good to ignore.

Ne Le Dis A Personne has stuck around. I watched it in a half-full Renoir, several weeks after it's release. It's had good press and the distributors must be pleased. Is it worthy of its success? What marks it out from the other myriad French releases which aren't doing such good box office at the moment?

Guillaume Canet seems like a canny operator. He adapted the script from an American crime novel, and directs with ambition. There's various crowd-pleasing sequences, including an all-action getaway scene, and a team of killers featuring a sadistic female who can assassinate by touch alone. The hook is effective - a man receives an email from his eight-year murdered wife. Is this real, or is he being set up? We want to find out and so does he.

Canet also wittily references recent french political history: the police chasing our hero Docteur Beck are thwarted by a gang of disillusioned multi-racial youths on a housing estate, walk-ons from La Haine, who create a mini riot to divert attention. The villainous, patriarchal Gilberte Neuville, aloof in his corruption, reminds one of the autocratic tendencies and absolute power of seemingly all French Presidents.

These factors are welded onto a complex, well-written plot, of the kind they used to make, with hints of Hawks and Hitchcock. There are genuine surprises, and it builds towards a satisfying conclusion, even if the revelatory scene feels unnecessarily stagey within a film that opens with cinematic verve.

Perhaps this is a clue as to why Tell No One ends up feeling like less than the sum of its parts. It ticks so many solid boxes, covers so many bases, that it ends up seeming as though this was the director's main ambition. A strategy that may be commercially effective, but ends up feeling like cinema by focus group, slightly americanised, lacking the auteur's willingness to fail.

Which does not mean there isn't much to enjoy. The director's attention to detail produces unexpected benefits which rub off on his scenes. Francois Cluzet, playing the good Docteur, seems most at home within his hospital scenes. When he is on the point of being arrested, and receives a phone call from his lawyer, he's treating a young colour-blind African child, with the child's mother in the background. We observe the scene through the mother's eyes, which lends it a slice of humour lifting his escape out of the ordinary. Similarly, the Detective chasing him is revealed in one scene to be a keen environmentalist, telling his assistant off for not placing something in the recycling bin. For no clear reason save that it gives a sideways insight into the detective's life, this scene is set in his elderly mother's home, and suddenly a whole sub-structure, lurking beneath the safe conventions of the thriller, shows its face.

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