Without even meaning to, I took immediate action on my New Year’s resolution to explore the French-language films of Kristin Scott Thomas. Turns out she has a supporting role in the thriller Tell No One (Ne le dis à personne).
Last week I kvetched that people overrated 2008’s other Kristin Scott Thomas film because it “benefited from the European cinema’s reputation for profundity”. By contrast, Tell No One is a great piece of popular entertainment whose North American commercial prospects were sabotaged by its restriction to the art-house ghetto. The middle third of the film is as pulse-pounding as a Jason Bourne adventure. I thought it had echoes of Marathon Man, although maybe that’s just because of the many scenes of François Cluzet, who looks a lot like Dustin Hoffman, running. In synopsis Tell No One most closely resembles The Fugitive, with its everyman hero – like Richard Kimble, a doctor – wanted by the cops for the murder of his wife. Except the wife may or may not actually be dead.
My one quibble is that the tension dissipates a little too early. The final act is dedicated to wrapping up the convoluted plot, and although by the end everything is neat and tidy, I could’ve lived with a loose end or two if it had meant one more scene featuring the vulpine Mikaela Fisher as a terrifyingly imperturbable torturess – one of the great screen henchmen in recent memory. Other supporting actors make strong impressions – Gilles Lelouche as an honourable thug from the banlieues who comes to the aid of our hero, François Berléand as an obsessive-compulsive detective, and Nathalie Baye as a defense attorney who entertainingly dresses down a cocky DA. The latter two actors seem to be pretty big in France, and it’s depressing how much sifting of Google Image results I had to conduct to match the actors’ names from IMDB.com to their roles; the English-language internet is still pretty indifferent to foreigners, even movie stars.
In my spoiler-filled evaluation of I’ve Loved You So Long, I complained that “For ninety minutes, [the main character] is a mystery. Then she’s a martyr…It’s a huge letdown.” I suppose this thought requires further clarification.
On the weekend I went to see Ricky Gervais in Ghost Town, which doesn’t really demand analysis – it’s simply a fun, schmaltzy romantic comedy. Gervais is a misanthrope who shies from human interaction, until a near-death experience on the operating table leaves him with the ability to talk to ghosts. Unfortunately, the ghosts are lonely, and pretty soon they won’t leave him alone. As he reluctantly helps the ghosts resolve the unfinished business that keeps them trapped on our material plane, Gervais learns to be a better, more generous person.
Gervais’ social phobia is explained away as a reaction to a traumatic breakup, and of course it’s cured by a simple act of will: he resolves to start paying attention to other people’s problems. This is a typical Hollywood oversimplification. I have a long history of interpersonal ineptitude, and I can assure the reader that it can’t be cured just by deciding to be a nicer guy. First off, people’s definition of what constitutes “niceness” is hugely variable. What one guy defines as an appropriate curiosity about his affairs, another guy resents as intolerable nosiness. Secondly, non-verbal cues like eye contact and body language are to a depressing extent resistant to our conscious control. An attempted friendly overture to an acquaintance can be undermined by a hostile-seeming physical pose or an ill-timed flicking away of the eyes. Thirdly, making small talk with strangers is not something that comes easily to someone who’s lost the habit. Believe me, I’ve thought about this stuff. It’s complicated.
I guess I could have been put off by Ghost Town‘s simplistic view of human behaviour. But it’s a fantasy, after all. If I’m willing to accept the notion that Manhattan’s streets are crowded with unhappy ghosts, I’ll play along with the illusion that people can so easily change for the better.
I’ve Loved You So Long is irritating because it seems to promise a more nuanced view of how people behave. Throughout the film people act in baffling, troubling, contradictory ways. But in the end, it turns out that there’s a single, Ghost Town-like explanation for all the main character’s actions. Maybe I’d be more charitable if I could force myself to see I’ve Loved You So Long as the Gothic mystery it wants to be, rather than the realistic drama it pretends to be. If you replaced Kristin Scott Thomas with Joan Crawford, moved the action from a middle-class French neighbourhood to a creepy mansion, and had the climactic revelation occur during a thunderstorm, I’d probably think the ending was pretty awesome. As it is, I still kinda hate it.