Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tell No One/Ne le dis a' personne

This past summer, after reading many enthusiastic reviews of the French movie 'Ne le dis a' personne', and being the kind of person who can’t resist a critic-pleasing foreign/independent movie, I went to see it. I was thoroughly happy with my decision, as I found the movie to be engaging and moving. The twists and turns of a well-wrought mystery told a stunning tale of a man’s deep grief and loss, and awesomely redeeming hope.

So when I discovered this weekend (I know, shame on me for not doing my research earlier) that the movie was in fact based on the American novel ‘Tell No One’ by Harlan Coben, and being a fan of mystery novels, I thought I would try giving it a read. I opened it Sunday late in the morning, and read the final sentence on page 370 that night around 9pm. I guess I must have liked it, or at least enjoyed reading it. For the most part the plot was exactly the same as that in the movie – in fact the movie kept a surprisingly high percentage of the original plot’s complexities. Yet the book told a very different story, and I don't mean the slightly different ending.

The book was about secrets and lies, and self-sacrifice, and the consequences of seemingly simple actions as they layer into increasing levels of complexity. The movie, while certainly portraying some of this, was a tale of what it means for hope to return when it has been long abandoned – the terrified melting of a heart that had long ago given up. And in my opinion, it was much more powerful.

While I did prefer (shockingly!) the movie to the book, that in itself is not what I find most striking. What is most fascinating to me is the use of (almost) the exact same plot to tell two very different stories. To me, it speaks to what it means to be an artist. My analogies, of course come mostly from music, and here I think of the plot as being the song, and the story is the artist’s rendering. A song can sound completely different – and have a completely different impact – depending on who is performing it, and how. I think of Jeff Buckley singing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Cohen’s original is certainly one that I love, but more as a compelling “plot” than a complete piece of art. Buckley’s cover is powerful and moving in a way that pushes the song into a different league. I feel the same way listening to Billie Holiday sing “The End of a Love Affair.” And hopefully what I will take forward from this is the lesson that art is what we put into it, and just as choosing beautiful songs to sing can’t make up for a lackluster performance, a passionate and honest one can always overcome the most humble of sources. (Wish me luck with conservatory auditions!)

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