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30 November 2022

Ne le dis à personne (2006)

Tell No One
Directed by: Guillaume Canet
Music: Matthieu Chedid
Starring: François Cluzet, Marie-Josée Croze,
Kristen Scott Thomas, Marina Hands,
François Berléand, Nathalie Baye

Noir has been one of my favourite film genres to watch. It is difficult to define ‘noir’ – is it a thriller? A murder mystery? A lone wolf tale? A blend of all of the above, yet none of it? For me, noir has always been about palette and mood, not the setting. They must have some common elements however – a lone protagonist, flashbacks, moral ambiguity, a dark/semi-dark theme, etc. Guillaume Canet’s 2006 tale of a doctor on the run from both cops and gangsters, searching for answers that have haunted him for eight years, is a welcome, if not completely noir-ish, addition to the genre.

As the credits begin, a family reunion is taking place. We meet Dr Alexandre Beck (François Cluzet), his lovely wife, Margot (Marie-Josée Croze), his sister, Anne (Marina Hands), her partner Hélène (Kristin Scott Thomas). 

When they leave the place, Alex and Margo drive to Lake Champlain where they stop to take a swim. The argument over Alex’s simmering feud with his sister continues and Margo leaves him on the little raft and swims back to the dock. The next thing Alex hears is her screams… when he swims quickly to the dock, someone knocks him out cold as he climbs the ladder. He lands up in hospital in a coma, and she is dead.

Eight years later, Alex, now working as a paediatrician at a Paris hospital, is still grappling with the grief of her loss. Until his sister texts him one morning – two bodies have been discovered at the lake where Margot died. And now Alex is implicated in the double homicide. Even though he has never gone back to the lake house after his wife’s death. But though his wife’s case was closed (a serial killer was the chief suspect) suspicion of Alex had never waned. Because, as the investigator Eric Levkovitch (François Berléand) points out, if Alex was hit so hard that he fell back into the water and was in coma for three days after, how did he get back onto the dock? Besides, the serial killer had confessed to seven murders, but not Margot’s.

As Alex is busy giving the police a DNA sample and grappling with the new twist in the case, he receives a cryptic email – one that has seemingly come from Margot. Does that mean she’s alive? Anne doesn’t think so, but Hélène, an old friend of Alex’s believes him. 

It is she who hires Maître Elysabeth Feldman (Natalie Baye), a renowned lawyer – and her friend - to defend him. And in the meanwhile, there are goons after Alex as well – goons who leave a trail of blood in their wake and implicate Alex for their crimes. 

When the cops find a safe deposit box’s key on one corpse, and when it reveals photographs that show a badly injured Margot and a shotgun that is implicated in another murder, Alex is in hot water. How hot, he learns when a gun tied to another murder is found hidden in his apartment. It seems like it’s all over save his arrest. But Alex, forewarned by his lawyer, jumps out of the window of his office at the hospital and escapes. “You realize he’s signed his own confession?” asks a laconic Levkovitch. The lawyer is not amused.

But Alex knows why he’s on the run – the emails show that his wife is alive; is she, really? She has set up a rendezvous at a nearby park. He has questions for her. A pop-up on his computer warns him that someone is hacking into his computer; who are they? The cops? Or the bad guys? Or are they the same?

In any case, he needs to elude both cops and gangsters so he can keep his rendezvous with his wife. But is he innocent as he claims he is? Or a domestic abuser turned killer, as the cops suspect?

It is difficult to summarise this thriller without giving away too many details. And how many details are one too many in a taut, under-two-hours thriller that keeps you guessing? There’s a fantastic chase sequence across highway lanes, there are corrupt cops and sleazy politicians, sadistic assassins and a grateful local goon who saves our hero’s skin a couple of times, and a wealth of secondary characters who not only add colour but play brief but important roles in the narrative. Including a large dog who provides a very crucial alibi.

Based on a novel named Tell No One by American Harlan Coben, Ne le dis à personne is a movie that is seen wholly through Alexandre Beck’s eyes. He’s a man haunted by what he doesn’t see – how his wife was murdered – and by what he doesn’t know – who did it? As the noose tightens around him with the discovery of a double murder, he finds glimpses of the past haunting his present. 

When emails that are seemingly from his dead-yet-not-dead wife land up in his inbox, he’s torn by his need to find answers. Little by little, he begins to unwrap the past, tantalised by whispers and hints, and fuzzy appearances. François Cluzet is brilliant as Alexandre, a man slowly torn apart by the realisation that his wife may not only be alive but that she appears to have had relationships he knew nothing about.

While the big reveal at the end is a bit clunky, given that it becomes a long exposition, the journey to that destination is a thrilling ride – as thrilling as the foot chase across the neighbourhoods and highways of Paris.

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