Tell No One is the kind of film you’d never see made in America. No one would finance such a film, no one would buy such a script, and audiences would likely not shell out bucks to see something that did not fit neatly into the formula of the familiar. It isn’t that Tell No One isn’t a great story well told; it is. But it’s a French story, a human story, imaginative and odd. You are guaranteed to have your brain, body, and soul engaged for over two hours as the tale winds itself and spins itself out. It’s one hell of a wild ride.
The film opens on two lovers, who have been in love, we find out, since childhood and who have been marking their annual anniversary on a tree near a lake since the beginning. Theirs is a forever kind of love, yet they are torn apart when they have a brief spat while skinny-dipping at the lake. The wife screams and disappears. The husband chases her and is knocked out. We catch up with the story eight years later.
It turns out that the wife was murdered that night by a local serial killer. The husband has lived with the pain of losing her for almost a decade when one day he gets an email from her, what seems like the work of a ghost. But is it a ghost? Why are the police still investigating him for the crime? Who are these thugs chasing him? And most importantly, is his wife really dead? Is he imagining things?
To give away any other part of this yarn would spoil the things that are so great about it, namely, it has you on the edge of your seat for its entire length. It is a mystery, crime thriller, and heartbreaking love story all at once. And yet, it isn’t a film for Americans, which explains why it had a hard time getting released here and why no one is really talking about it much. You should, of course, rush out and see it. You are guaranteed to get your money’s worth, whether you like the film or not.
Alex, the husband, is played so beautifully by Francois Cluzet, especially in those moments where he touches that edge that takes him out of his grief and into the realm of unimaginable hope, the thought that he might hear, see, or touch his beloved wife again. The wife is played by the lovely Marie-Josee Croze.
Many of the characters come in with unexplained backstories, like Kristen Scott-Thomas who turns out to be Alex’s friend and the live-in lover of his sister (believe me, that is just one of the story’s tentacles). Scott-Thomas pulls off the French perfectly, or so it would seem. Her character is also a restaurant owner and is given depth beyond just – oh, she’s a lesbian for the hell of it. These extended stories are unnecessary to the plot, but they do so enrich it that it suddenly makes American films, which only have “necessary characters” in them, seem hollow by comparison; why shouldn’t our stories contain the multitude of color and diversity our real lives do?
The film is directed with energy and life by Guillaume Canet and co-written by Canet and Harlan Coben, who wrote the book on which the film is based. It was a hit in France and ended up sweeping the French Oscars, the Cesars. Does this really mean that we aren’t as smart as Europeans? No. What it means is that our films exist to make profit. We trim the fat at the expense of taking risks in storytelling, and in so doing our product is rather generic and far too reliant on superstars.