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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Ryan Gilbey

Nobody Has to Know review – whimsical tale of gentle deceit in the Outer Hebrides

Nobody Has to Know
Nobody Has to Know. Photograph: © Versus production

‘Have you guys seen Jason Bourne?” asks Brian (Andrew Still), a farm labourer in the Outer Hebrides, near the start of Nobody Has to Know. “It’s exactly the same kind of set-up!” How droll of the writer-director Bouli Lanners to invoke that breakneck action franchise when his own film could scarcely be more different, save for a plot involving memory loss. The closest thing here to an action set-piece occurs when an estate agent is tardy returning to the office, leaving her colleague to take a later-than-usual lunch break.

If this isn’t a film to set the heart racing, it doesn’t leave that organ entirely untroubled; with his script’s echoes of 40s weepie Random Harvest, Lanners is aiming for similar status. The Bourne-lite hero is Brian’s Belgian co-worker Phil (Lanners), who suffers a stroke. Only a mild, photogenic one, mind you, with no paralysis or facial palsy, just a spot of temporary amnesia manifested in purely whimsical terms; he can’t recall, for instance, how a dalmatian named Nigel ended up in his house. This blank slate also makes it possible for the emotionally frigid Millie (Michelle Fairley), daughter of Phil’s boss, Angus (Julian Glover), to pull a While You Were Sleeping-style fast one on him by pretending they were in a relationship. “Are we still together?” he asks, dazed yet hopeful.

The British Board of Film Classification lists this “sexual coercion” among the reasons for the film’s 12A rating, but Lanners neutralises potential tastelessness by ensuring that any possible area of conflict – be it the provenance of Nigel, or Phil’s eventual discovery of Millie’s subterfuge – is calmly resolved, leaving behind nary a ripple of drama. Every character here is timid or well-meaning, and even those who haven’t suffered a medical emergency are grappling with issues of the heart.

With a script that doesn’t always sparkle as it might, Nobody Has to Know resembles an Aki Kaurismäki film minus the big laughs and drop-dead decor. Frank van den Eeden’s cinematography does most of the heavy lifting, with numerous shots of the dramatic Isle of Lewis landscape, or lone characters staring out to sea. Fairley excels among the understated cast, even if Millie’s emotional trajectory is predictable; from the moment we see her hair pinned tightly to her head, we know that its inevitable loosening can only be 90-odd minutes away.

• Nobody Has to Know is released on 3 November in UK cinemas.

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