Tell No One: Guillaume Canet and Harlan Coben

By James Van Maanen

Tell No One

Finally, a year and a half after it opened in France, and more than a year after it copped Best Actor, Director, Editing and Music at the annual César Awards, Guillaume Canet's labor of love, the chase thriller/love story Tell No One, is opening in the US. An enormous popular and critical success in France, throughout Europe and even in Britain, the movie - were there any justice - ought to be a hit here as well, at least on the foreign-language front. But with the consistent dumbing down of American audiences, an increasing refusal to read subtitles, and the past eight years of a political administration in which "French" itself has been hurled as an insult... who knows?

I first caught Tell No One at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's 2007 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. Seeing it again, well over a year later, simply reinforces my feeling that this is a prime example of a first-rate, genre-jumping movie, one that, in terms of content and emotional impact, puts to shame in many ways the film that won our Oscar that same year: The Departed.

The American theatrical opening of Tell No One on July 2 also provides an opportunity to speak with both Harlan Coben, the best-selling author of the original novel from which the movie has been adapted (very well, too, according to Coben), and to the gifted young actor/director who co-wrote the screenplay and directed the film, Guillaume Canet.

I met both the novelist and the director for a roundtable talk that included Sandra Naigeon from French Morning and Nobu Hosoki of Yahoo Japan and his own Hosokinema. For purposes of space and ease, all our questions will be marked collectively as "RT," short for roundtable.

Coben is a tall, imposing fellow, with a powerful bass voice. If he ever gives up the writing game (though why should he, with so many best-sellers under his belt?), he could easily go into motivational speaking and give Tony Robbins a run for his money. At last years' Rendez-Vous, I heard Coben give a splendid introduction and post-film Q&A, so I wanted to follow this up with more questions. According to the IMDB, his latest novel, Deal Breaker, has been announced for an upcoming film. However, in answer to our first question we learn that Deal Breaker is now broken.

Harlan Coben: Yep, there's always something going on. And there's always something falling apart. That’s the nature of Hollywood. That was the nature of Tell No One, in fact. Originally it was optioned by a group that included Michael Ovitz and Canal Plus, then it went over to Columbia-Sony, and then Michael Apted was going to direct it. And then two guys, the screenwriters who did Transformers, they wrote a screenplay. It kept going through different machinations but never quite got made. Then Guillaume scooped it up from under their noses.

RT: Had it lapsed with the Hollywood people?

HC: Every 18 months or so, I'd have to re-approve and re-sign and I think that right after the Michael Apted deal had fallen through, Guillame kept calling me and kind of nagging me. I really loved his passion for the story. And then I saw his Mon idole and really liked it. And I really hated all the Hollywood scripts. They were terrible. Honestly, terrible. They all thought it was a thriller first and a love story second. I wanted it to be a love story first and a thriller second - which is how Guillaume saw it, too. So I finally said to him, "Look, if you can match the option money - which was a lot for France - I'll give you a chance." And that's what happened.

RT: And you're happy with the result?

Harlan Coben

HC: I'm thrilled! As opposed to what a Hollywood movie would have been with this thing, I am very happy with it.

RT: We thought that Tell No One also won best picture in France, but I guess it didn't.

HC: It won the Lumière Award, which is like the Golden Globe. It was nominated for Best Film, but Lady Chatterley won instead.

RT: In your original novel, were both the husband and wife in the social service and medical professions? This "helping others" type job seems important to both the characters and the plot, and in fact is responsible for certain plot developments.

HC: Yes, he was a pediatrician and she was in social services. My wife is actually a pediatrician, and she works with the underserved in New York City, up in Harlem by Columbia Presbyterian. That's kind of where the idea came from: I took my wife's job and gave it to a guy.

RT: The poster gives a true feeling for the movie.

HC: Good, I was talking to Guillaume today and arguing with him - we're really tight but we still fight - and I was saying that I could not remember a chase scene quite that good. People might say, well, The Bourne Ultimatum, but no, Bourne's an expert. And my guy is just a real character. He's an amateur, running away. And Guillaume and his crew only had a few hours to film the chase. One of the great things, if it comes out here, is the "making of" film, which is really good and has so much interesting information in it.

RT: Maybe it'll be on the DVD.

HC: Oh, and another thing. If you are familiar with French cinema then you'll know that there are some really, really great French actors in the movie: Jean Rochefort, André Dussollier, Nathalie Baye, François Berléand. But François Cluzet as the lead was very controversial. They wanted a bigger star and François had not worked as a leading man since maybe the 1980s. But Cluzet was great - it was also Guillaume's direction - like when he first sees his wife on the computer. If this were an American film, you might have had a big "gasp!" moment, but he barely changes expression: it's just a flicker in his eye. The way he keeps his emotion in check is great.

One of my favorite scenes is where he has to fall back into the water. They strapped a camera to him and he just did this scene over and over, all night! He was also scared to death of that stag at the end - because stags aren't trained, so he just had to deal with it. Running across the highway in that chase scene, everything. But he did it! Guillaume was in his corner all the time, but François, too, was really hungry for this role. He wanted it. And then he won Best Actor for it. He deserved it, too!

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