The Arts

Tell No One & Patti Smith: Dream of Life

Tell No One & Patti Smith: Dream of Life featured image

by Marc Glassman

Tell No One (Ne le dis a personne). Guillaume Canet, dir. & co-script w/Phillippe Lefebvre based on the novel by Harlan Coben. Starring: Francois Cluzet (Dr. Alex Beck), Marie-Josee Croze (Margot Beck), Kristin Scott Thomas (Helene), Elisabeth Feldman (Nathalie Baye), Jean Rochefort (Senator Neuville), Francois Berleand (Police Captain), Gilles Lellouche (Bruno), Guillaume Canet (Philippe)

Patti Smith: Dream of Life. Feature documentary directed by Steven Sebring and starring: Patti Smith w/appearances by Fred “Sonic” Smith, her band including Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Daugherty, her kids, her parents, Philip Glass, Sam Shepard, Flea, Benjamin Smoke.

Tell No One (Ne le dis a personne) is a rarity these days–a brilliantly structured thriller that features fascinating characters, intricate plotting and a hair-raising set piece on a Parisian highway. Time was when such a film would be politely praised as a well made genre exercise–but that’s hardly the case anymore. Guillaume Canet, the director, co-writer and actor, deserves credit for constructing a modern day film noir, with all of the precision and resonance that made such works a staple of cinema-going decades ago.

Canet follows in the tradition of French New Wave directors Francois Truffaut (Shoot the Piano Player, The Bride Wore Black), Jean-Luc Godard (Pierrot le fou) and Claude Chabrol (Cry of the Owl, Leda) by adapting an American thriller writer and placing the story in a French context. The choice of Harlan Coben’s Tell No One was an inspired one on Canet’s part as it is a story that transfers well into a foreign setting. It’s quite contemporary as well, using the Internet, video and anonymous emails to involve the viewer in the plot.

See if this story doesn’t hook you. A blissfully married couple is asleep, nude, near midnight, on a dock near their summer cottage. The wife goes off alone towards their home when suddenly the husband hears her cry out. Rushing to her rescue, he’s hit with such force by an assailant that he plunges into the water, unconscious. When he awakens, he’s informed that his wife is dead and he’s a prime suspect in her murder. Eight years pass. One day, the man receives an email directing him to open up a link to a video. On the video, alive and older, is his dead wife. Or is it?

We’re in Hitchcock country, where an innocent man has to prove to the world that he didn’t commit a crime—and, further, has to try to prevent another one from happening. Francois Cluzet is a perfect modern day James Stewart: a Romantic figure, quietly honourable, but still slightly unhinged by grief for his lost love. Once Cluzet’s Dr. Beck discovers that his beloved Margot may be alive, he becomes a man obsessed with finding her. Naturally, the police arrive the very same day with potential evidence to link Beck to his wife’s murder.

So the chase is on. The evildoers who either killed Margot or drove her underground want to prevent Beck from figuring out what happened eight years ago. As incriminating evidence and a new murder takes place, the police start pursuing Beck in earnest.

And who does Beck have on his side? The lesbian girlfriend (Kristin Scott-Thomas) of his sister and a career criminal (Gilles Lellouche) whose son he once helped are there to aid him as best they can. With odds stacked against him, Beck receives a final email to come to a Parisian park and “Tell no one. I love you.”

Who will meet him if he goes—his beloved Margot or criminals out to kill him?

Featuring excellent performances by Cluzet, Scott-Thomas, old pros Nathalie Baye, Jean Rochefort and Francois Berleand and graced with the presence of Quebecois born French (as in France) star Marie-Josee Croze as Margot, Tell No One belies its title. You should tell everyone to see this magnificent thriller.

Patti Smith: Dream of Life is an artily rendered memoir by the iconic rock star and poet working with her friend, the fashion photograph—and now director—Steven Sebring. Aficionados of Smith, a brilliant lyricist and composer who is often referred to as “the Godmother of Punk,” will find this intimate profile to be quite moving. If you don’t know much about her, you may be intrigued or left feeling that you’re still in the dark.

To be fair, Sebring has Smith render a brief chronology of her life over iconic images and a soul-rattling soundtrack at the start of the film. You discover quite quickly that Smith is a Zoomer—yikes! she’s 61!—who was discovered working in a downtown New York bookshop by the legendary photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the late ‘60s.

It was Mapplethorpe who introduced Smith to playwright-actor Sam Shepard and many other New York artists including the Beat poet Allan Ginsberg and novelist William Burroughs. Before Smith reached pop celebrity status with her debut album Horses in 1975, she had already acted, painted, written poetry and appeared in many of Mapplethorpe’s photos. Indeed Mapplethorpe’s cover photo of Smith for Horses, with the singer posing androgynously in a white shirt and black pants, a jacket slung casually over one shoulder, is one of the classic images of the punk movement and of rock history.

That shot, along with her legendary concerts at the NY punk club CBGB’s and her composition with Bruce Springsteen of the song “Because the Night” would be enough to make Smith an important figure in pop annals. Her true contribution—immediately recognized—went beyond that: she brought Beat philosophy, the poetry of Rimbaud, and best of contemporary photography and art into a mix that influenced a generation growing up in the ‘70s and beyond.

The film refers to all of those events, but in a glancing, informal manner. What makes this documentary special—apart from its expressive use of black and white imagery– is the relationship between Sebring and Smith. Dream of Life takes us to unexpected places. There’s archival footage of Smith visiting her parents in the family home in New Jersey; a trip to Rimbaud’s grave in France; casual conversations on a bed with Smith’s son Jackson; and scenes with Patti and her late husband Fred “Sonic” Smith.

Indeed, Dream of Life is weighed down by death. Mapplethorpe’s early demise from AIDS, and the deaths of Smith’s brother Todd and husband Fred, her parents and such mentors as Ginsberg and Burroughs haunt the film. Yet, Smith is a survivor. Her art and love of children Jackson and Jesse, make the film, ultimately, an uplifting experience.

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