2008 was a good year for world cinema with Pedro Almodovar’s Volver (2006), Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution (2007) and French book adaptation The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) all as highly popular rentals. The first film to be discussed in this article is another French adaptation: crime thriller Tell No One (2006) in which a widowed man was once suspected of the murder of his wife.

He once again comes under suspicion when two more bodies are found in similar circumstances; professing his innocence the hero is forced to go on the run but do not be fooled into thinking this is simply a European reworking of The Fugitive (1993); the twists and secrets that unfold as the narrative progresses cause Tell No One to stand out as one of the most impressive crime-thrillers of recent years.

Both directed by and starring the gorgeous French heart throb Guillaume Canet and based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Harlan Cobden Tell No One must be largely applauded for the way in which it continually deceives, distracts and surprises its audience; though some have commented upon the somewhat unrealistic nature of the story others have applauded Canet, who also wrote the screen adaptation, for the way in which the complex and unusual tale is brought to life.

Once again however it is the performances that cause Tell No One to truly stand apart from the crowd; the enigmatic yet understated and caring paediatrician Alex Beck played by François Cluzet brings depth and style to the traditional "everyman" character he portrays, whilst Kristin Scott Thomas’, who I have often felt appears more at home in French language cinema that in Hollywood, portrayal of Beck’s lesbian friend Helene Perkins is excellent. The award-winning Marie-Josée Croze steals the show however as her depiction of Beck’s supposedly deceased wife simply sparkles with mystery and a warm, comforting allure.

What is also especially impressive about Tell No One is the successful transition it made from page to screen; though there have been many an elaborate and absorbing novel to screen adoption the unusual nature of this American book being translated and transmuted onto the French cinema screen adds a new level to an already intriguing plot. The style and cultural aura that emanates from all good French films gives Tell No One an effervescence and edge that it would surely have lacked had it been made on American soil.

The second film addressed in this article is the Oscar winning The Lives of Others (2006), another foreign language film The Lives of Others follows a German secret service agent who becomes increasingly obsessed with the couple he is tasked with following.

Set in 1984 the film provides audiences with an insight into the lives of the people of Berlin before the wall was torn down in 1989, the images and ideologies presented in the film depict the oppression and claustrophobia experienced by the people of East Germany in an honest and unabashed fashion – this may not be pretty, the film says, but it is the truth. Despite this rather stark slice of realism there remains a smooth subtlety to The Lives of Others; the politics and history surrounding the story may be difficult and complex yet they in no way distract from the fascinating drama of the people living amongst them.

The key aspect of the narrative is the development of the secret police Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) who begins the film as a certified member of the German Democratic Republic, the political party whose grasp on power is severely limiting the liberty of their citizens. Yet as the film progresses his surveillance of the playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his actress lover Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck) brings Wiesler face to face with the human element behind those his bosses would simply term "subversive". The most striking thing about The Lives of Others is the way in which it is filmed, juxtaposing Wiesler at his type-writer, wearing headphones and listening to the goings-on in Dreyman’s home with the life inside the building itself, the claustrophobia felt by the tenants, the genuine emotion experienced by the two lovers against the detached matter-of-fact way in which Wiesler writes his initial reports. The beauty comes from both the simplicity and complexity of it all; the distinct images conjured by Wiesler as he eavesdrops against the blurred edges of human feeling.

The final scene of The Lives of Others still resonates with me now, the twists – ones so strikingly different to those referred to when discussing Tell No One that they deserve another word entirely – cause my breath to catch in my throat. Where Tell No One is mysterious The Lives of Others is mystifying – presenting the possibilities and outcomes of human nature in an inspirational and complex fashion.