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French Thriller 'Tell No One' Gains Momentum In U.S.
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French Thriller 'Tell No One' Gains Momentum In U.S.

Arts & Life

French Thriller 'Tell No One' Gains Momentum In U.S.

French Thriller 'Tell No One' Gains Momentum In U.S.
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Tell No One is a French thriller that was a hit in Europe, but it had a hard time finding distribution in the United States. Now it's been out for some weeks, and its audience is growing through strong word-of-mouth.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And now to MORNING EDITION and Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan, who has a story of an independent film that had a hard time getting into theaters, but is now it's doing great box office business.

KENNETH TURAN: It's "Tell No One," a splendid French thriller with a plot so twisty, you may forget to breathe. A young doctor and his wife enjoy a rendezvous at a lake, and then she is brutally murdered.

(Soundbite of movie, "Tell No One")

Unidentified Man: Margot.

Unidentified Woman: (unintelligible)

(Soundbite of water splashing)

TURAN: Eight years later, the doctor suddenly receives an anonymous email message...

(Soundbite of beep)

TURAN: ...suggesting that she may still be alive. Tell no one, the message ends. We're being watched. Soon the doctor is living a broad daylight nightmare that would make Alfred Hitchcock envious, complete with incompetent cops and compelling car chases.

(Soundbite of tires screeching)

TURAN: "Tell No One" started out in only a few U.S. theaters, but it's now playing on close to 100 screen in dozens of cities. And its word-of-mouth success inspired the Hollywood Reporter to headline, "French Thriller Mounting Thrilling Run." But no one saw this American success coming, though it's based on a novel by bestselling author Harlan Coben and was a critical and financial hit all across Europe.

Instead, "Tell No One" languished for two years with no U.S. distribution deal, until it was picked up by a tiny but intrepid Chicago company called Music Box Films.

So, what scared off all those bigger American distributors? The likely answer is the same situation that initially hampered the wildly popular Irish film "Once" last year. Both films had trouble getting American distribution because of a conflict between what movie insiders call playability and marketability.

"Tell No One" had playability. People who came to see it loved it. But without marketability like big stars or a fancy director that could lure people into the theater in the first place, no distributor wanted to take it. But "Tell No One" is catnip for audiences who love smart thrillers the way they used to make them. People who see it and love it tell their friends, and that word-of-mouth is making "Tell No One" into a success.

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

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'Tell No One' a Twisty Tale, and Worth Untangling

Francois Cluzet as Alexandre Beck i

Pediatrician Alexandre Beck (François Cluzet) finds himself in the middle of a murder intrigue that involves his wife. Jean-Claude Lother/Music Box Films hide caption

toggle caption Jean-Claude Lother/Music Box Films
Francois Cluzet as Alexandre Beck

Pediatrician Alexandre Beck (François Cluzet) finds himself in the middle of a murder intrigue that involves his wife.

Jean-Claude Lother/Music Box Films

Tell No One

  • Director: Guillaume Canet
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 125 minutes

Not rated.

Francois Cluzet and Kristin Scott Thomas in 'Tell No One' i

As the situation gets more complex, Alex relies on Helene (Kristin Scott Thomas) as his primary confidante. Jean-Claude Lother/Music Box Films hide caption

toggle caption Jean-Claude Lother/Music Box Films
Francois Cluzet and Kristin Scott Thomas in 'Tell No One'

As the situation gets more complex, Alex relies on Helene (Kristin Scott Thomas) as his primary confidante.

Jean-Claude Lother/Music Box Films

Eight years ago, pediatrician Alex Beck (Francois Cluzet) awoke from a three-day coma to learn that his wife, Margot (Marie-Josee Croze), had been murdered — and that the local cops didn't entirely buy his account of what happened.

Viewers may react with similar distrust to the plot of Tell No One, a French box-office smash that's overstuffed with conspiracies. Yet the movie is beautifully constructed and thematically rich, and thus remains a pleasure even as the story becomes increasingly implausible.

It's adapted from a mystery by American novelist Harlan Coben, but Guillaume Canet's film seems utterly French, as well as entirely contemporary. It travels from the aristocratic world of equestrian competition — Alex's sister is a show jumper — to the working-class suburbs of Paris, where Alex has connections, thanks to his work with immigrants' kids.

Featuring some of France's top stars, the cast includes Nathalie Baye (as Alex's hard-boiled attorney), Jean Rochefort (as an imperious baron of the horsy set) and Paris-based Brit Kristin Scott Thomas (as Helene, Alex's close friend and his sister's lover).

For Alex, troubling flashbacks return when two bodies are found near the site of Margot's death. While the police consider reopening the case, Alex receives cryptic messages indicating that there never was a homicide: Margot is still alive, but afraid to reveal herself. "Tell no one," she warns Alex in an e-mail. "They're watching."

They are indeed. Soon Alex is framed for another murder, and is literally on the run, chased by police officers across Paris' beltway and into the sort of neighborhood where fugitives have higher status than cops.

That's the sort of detail that makes the movie consistently interesting. Brief scenes reveal a wealth of information, both narrative and sociological, and no shot is wasted.

A quick glimpse of a waitress's derriere reveals Helene's inclinations; a seemingly offhand sequence in which Alex leaves his dog outside an Internet cafe turns out to be essential.

Indeed, one fruitful way to watch the film is by paying close attention to dogs and kids. Tell No One is about filial as much as erotic love, and for all Alex's longing for Margot, the story really turns on what people are prepared to do to protect children.

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