Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 06, 2012 7:34 pm 
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Tell no one

Prolific French actor Guillaume Canet's first significant effort as a director, the 2006 Tell No One, was a complicated, precipitous American thriller and an international hit. Now the director, seemingly overwhelmed with guilt feelings for having had so much fun, has assembled an ensemble of well-known French actors (including François Cluzet, central to Tell No One) for a drawn-out bore, a two-and-a-half-hour punishment for the actors and the audience. If Canet thought he was doing a grown-up Big Chill story of adults in crisis like Claude Sautet's 1974 Vincent, François, Paul, and the Others he was sadly mistaken. These folks are self-indulgent energy-wasters. And they're despicable as well as nutty. Straight family man Benoît Jacquot messes with the head of easily perturbed straight family man and holiday host François Cluzet by telling him that he's in love with him. But meanwhile they've all blithely gone off to the French Riviera when one of their best friends, Ludo (Jean Dujardin, formerly silent, now mute), lies dying in a hospital after a horrible scooter accident. And when he does die, after their trivial but long-drawn-out amorous peccadillos and confusions on holiday, the whole group of over-actors gathers for the film's finale: a weepy and thoroughly unconvincing and unnecessary funeral. This movie was shot well before Cluzet appeared in the super-popular Intouchables and Cotillard did her star turns in Midnight in Paris, Contagion, Rust and Bone and The Dark Knight Rises. Somehow belatedly it has now crept onto American shores. Better avoided, even on DVD. If you get stuck with it, after all that time somehow in spite of yourself you may get to like some of the characters, and feel in some temporary odd way that you know them. But still, a disaster.

One of the problems is that the cast, certainly a good one, is hustled off from Paris, where party boy Ludo's terrible plot device of an accident lands him in a hospital in a coma, to Max's (Cluzet's) beach summer house before their identities are established. Who their wives are, what their couple-dom is like, how many kids they have and which kids are whose, remains a bit murky. Vincent (coincidence? Magimel) is a chiropractor and Max is a restaurateur, but so what? This just seems like a gathering of actors, some of them pretty well known, and for a while I thought maybe they were improvising riffs on their own lives. Happily, not. Because these people are a mess, and not a very interesting one.

Pot-smoking rebel Marie -- as Variety helpfully calls her (I thought she was just Marion Cotillard), and actors (in the story that is) Eric (Gilles Lellouche) and Antoine (Laurent Lafitte) are all hoping to salvage, or find, a relationship. Marie is visited by a musician who drove down overnight from Paris, but then the guy decides great sex ain't enough. Eric and Antoine, in a too-neatly parallel and contrasting trip together back to Paris, try to restore good gf relations; one fails, the other succeeds. So what? Meanwhile there are boating incidents, Max grows more and more neurotic, fussing over ferrets he thinks are hiding in the walls and preparing to freak out, in an inexplicable and anachronistic kind of homosexual panic, about Vincent's odd, slightly comical homosexual passion. Cluzet overdoes the neurotic fits, turning his part into a deadpan comedy of humors. Best not to stress, as some have, Cluzet's resemblance to Dustin Hoffman; the comparison isn't in Cluzet's favor. Magimel's minimal and hence somewhat mysterious performance is much more interesting, but wasted in the endless meandering disorder that is this movie. Every so often things are interrupted by a Sixties or Seventies American pop classic, occasionally effective, mostly just annoying. And pity the poor kids, huddled in a corner, sometimes terrorized, other times ignored.

Canet seems uncertain what tone to adopt, understandably since tragedy hovers over the proceedings, yet the manifold interactions of the lovesick and the loony naturally point the way to farce. That it's all stupid and the group is being adolescent and reprehensible is underlined by the stern disapproval of a local character (and pal of Ludo's), Jean-Louis, an oyster fisherman, who contrasts the better with all these actor-y types because the man playing him, Joël Dupuch, is not an actor at all but an oyster fisherman in real life. An impressive and good-looking fellow to boot, which is more than you can say for most of these guys, though Laurent Lafitte, who plays Antoine, is big and broad-shouldered and has a dazzling smile.

Marion Cotillard is an actress whose soulful eyes and exotic beauty are always a pleasure on screen. But she is wasted here, weeping for the lost pal, rolling joints, and lying in an empty bed when a guitarist has dumped her after a so-so performance for the group. The music, sometimes obtrusive throughout, doesn't add much except perhaps welcome interruptions to the shapeless action. Dp Christophe Offenstein is reduced to following people and boats around and doesn't get to do anything of distinction.

Guillaume Canet has a lot of amazing actor friends and obviously can work well with them given the right material. It's hard to know what he was thinking here, but his producing the screenplay himself from scratch didn't pan out, and we might as well just forget all about it and wait till next time. Let's tell no one about this movie, shall we? It doesn't seem like Canet can perform well in the director's chair without a strict and intricately worked out book to work from, but if he goes back to that he still might do well again.

After debuting at Toronto and London, Les petits mouchoirs, the French title, "The Little Handkerchiefs," opened in Paris Oct. 20, 2010 to so-so reviews (Allociné 2.9). One strong French criticism was that the relatively young Canet had produced something so old-fashioned and just plain "old." Télérama said "One has rarely seen such a long film in which the characters develop so little." The movie, buoyed maybe by the cast and the pretty, sunny seaside settings, has been released in many countries. It came out in the UK Apr. 15, 2011, and in the US, August 24, 2012.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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