“Tell No One” – An Excellent French Thriller

June 22, 2010 § 2 Comments

“A top-notch thriller.  So twisty you may forget to breathe.” – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

I just rented Tell No One (2006),  Guillaume Canet’s thriller based on the bestselling novel by Harlan Coben, for a second time, and I have to agree with New York Times reviewer Stephen Holden, “Vertigo meets The Fugitive by way of The Big Sleep … It was even better the second time.”   It won rave reviews, like that from Holden, as well as Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times. And it appeared on numerous Top 10 lists for 2008.

Here’s the story … Eight years after the murder of his wife, Margot, by a serial killer, pediatrician Alexandre Beck is still struggling to move on.   As the anniversary of her death approaches, two events throw his life, and what he thinks he knows, into turmoil.  First, Alex becomes the prime suspect when two bodies are discovered very near the property of his family’s country home.  Second, he receives an email with a link to a video of his dead wife, in which she appears to be alive and well.  In the email, he is instructed him to “Tell no one.”  The tension ratchets up as Alex tries to unravel the mystery of the video, and his wife, while evading the police whose investigation is narrowing in on him.  The whole thing is satisfying and surprising, right down to the final frame.  If  you like a taut, smart thriller, this is for you.

This got me thinking … there’s something about a good foreign thriller.  They’re less glossy and a bit grittier, but no less polished, than their American counterparts, even when based on an American book.  (See the Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, based on Stieg Larsson’s bestseller, before Hollywood gets its hands on it.)  They assume their audience has a brain and wants to use it, even when watching a movie.  And, I think that the use of sub-titles actually makes the viewer pay closer attention to the narrative and action.  Once you get into the groove of reading them (usually about 10 minutes in), you’re not conscious of them, but you’re there.  There’s no leaving the room with the movie is playing … you’ll miss it.  More demanding?  Yes.  More rewarding.  Often, yes, as well.

And that got me thinking about other French thrillers, and other French films, in general.  I have a few favorites.  So, if you’re looking for a foreign film to rent this summer, once you’ve seen Tell No One, you might want to take a look at:

I’ve Loved You So Long (2008) – A woman attempts to rebuild her life after 15 years in prison.  It’s not what you think.  And Kristen Scott Thomas is phenomenal.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) – Director Julian Schnabel tells the moving, true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffers from locked-in syndrome after experiencing a massive stroke.  Beautiful visuals, a compelling, if tough, story, extraordinary acting … bring the tissues.

Flight of the Red Balloon (2007) – Juliette Binoche is a single mother, living in Paris and raising her seven-year-old son.  She is also a puppeteer preparing for an upcoming show.  The story feels real.  The cinematography – with long, sumptuous shots – is moving.  The red balloon becomes a character.  A small, under-seen film worth a viewing.

Cache (2005) – According to Rotten Tomatoes: “Though [director] Haneke’s film works first and foremost as an insidious thriller, it is also a powerful commentary on the urban paranoia and racism that continue to permeate modern society. Without using a score, and keeping his camera detached and static, Haneke nonetheless establishes a nearly unbearable level of tension. Not for the squeamish, CACHÉ remains a work of menacing brilliance, and was the winner of the Best Director award at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.”

Swimming Pool (2003) – An edgy thriller in which nothing is what it seems.

8 Women (2001) – “Living in a house full of women can be murder.”  A lighthearted, country-manse romp with a who’s who line-up of French actresses.  Think Gosford Park, set in France, with women.

And there are two French films, released in North America in 2009, that I’ve yet to see: The Prophet (2009) and The Class (2008).  Both received excellent reviews.   They’re on my rental list.

Happy viewing.


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