The new French film, Tell No One, is an understated thriller with echoes of The Fugitive and Vertigo. Of course, many French films are subdued and sophisticated, even as they eschew the American passion for action and resolution. French films also often feature detached, amoral characters that evoke little sympathy in viewers. Tell No One, directed by Guillaume Canet and based on a novel by American author Harlan Coben, is different: It is a multi-layered murder mystery at whose center is a deeply sympathetic character, whose true story is not so much a crime thriller as it is a moving love story.
Childhood sweethearts, Alex Beck (François Cluzet) and Margot (Marie-Josée Croze), grow up to become a seemingly happily married couple — until one night, at a lakeside cabin, Alex is knocked unconscious and nearly drowns, while Margot is attacked and murdered. The scene of the murder, or at least what Alex can recall of it, is shown in a flashback sequence, as are scenes of Alex and Margot as children playing contentedly by the lakeshore.
The actual time covered in the film occurs eight years after Margot’s murder, whose mystery was apparently solved with the capture of a serial killer who had been active in the area but who nonetheless in his confession of multiple murders did not admit to Margot’s.
As the eighth anniversary of Margot’s death approaches, Alex is still plagued by a deep sense of loss, but he has gone on with his career as a successful pediatrician, where he is shown to be a prudent and compassionate caregiver. Then, police discover two long-dead bodies in the same area where Margot’s body was found. One of the dead men had a key to a safe deposit box containing pictures of a bruised and badly beaten Margot. These odd coincidences and other circumstantial evidence eventually bring the police to suspect that Alex may actually have murdered his wife.
Indeed, a series of unanswered questions remain concerning the night Margot was murdered. If Alex was knocked unconscious in the water, how did his body end up on the pier? Who made the anonymous call that led police to Alex — who remained in a coma for days — and Margot’s body?
At roughly the same time as the bodies are discovered, Alex begins to receive anonymous e-mails claiming that Margot is alive, with attached videos as proof. Here is a second set of mysteries. Who is sending the e-mails and is that really Margot in the video clips? The e-mail sender warns Alex, “Tell no one. They’re watching us.” Precisely who is watching? At least two groups, it seems: the police of course, but also a shadow group of vicious criminals willing to use any means to discover the truth about Margot.
When that shadow group tortures and murders a woman whom they think had information about Margot, those involved plant evidence at the crime scene incriminating Alex. Tipped off to the cops’ approach while he’s at work, Alex escapes out a hospital window. As the chief investigator tells is lawyer, “He just signed his confession.”
An exhilarating chase scene ensues. At this point, Alex, who is beginning to hope that his wife is still alive, is both pursued by the police and pursuing those who might have further information about his wife. Alex here resembles both the wrongly accused man on the run from The Fugitive and the main character from Hitchcock’s Vertigo, who seems to cling to his love for a dead woman and thus finds himself unable to escape from the past.