Film-Forward Review: [ALIAS BETTY]

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Directed by: Claude Miller.
Produced by: Yves Marmion & Annie Miller.
Written by: Miller, based upon the novel The Tree of Hands by Ruth Rendell.
Director of Photography: Christophe Pollock.
Edited by: Véronique Lange.
Music by: François Dompierre & Thom Yorke.
Released by: Wellspring.
Country of Origin: France. 103 min. Unrated.
With: Sandrine Kiberlain, Nicole Garcia, Mathilde Seigner & Edouard Baer.

DVD Features: Featurette-The Making of Betty Fisher and Other Stories. Filmographies. English subtitles. Trailers. Scene Selection. Web links.

This is an elegant thriller revolving around two unsentimental portrayals of motherhood. Betty (Kiberlain) marred a scar on her hand inflicted by her mother when she was a girl. Originally named after Brigitte Bardot, she has given herself a new name, become a famous novelist, and, willowy and withdrawn, has not become what mother Margot (Garcia) envisioned. Margot takes medication to control her violent behavior, but remains narcissistic as ever, needing more attention than her grandson. After an awkward reunion, she wonders at Betty’s loving and protective behavior toward her son, “I never understood women who want to become mothers.” One of the film’s many interweaving storylines, which smartly touch upon class and racial issues, features Margot’s counterpart, Carol (Seigner), who at first seems mockingly affectionate toward her young son when she says “So long, little bastard.” Later, though, a much darker side of her dismissive personality becomes apparent. Through tragedy and subplots involving a swindle, blackmail, and switched identities, these middle-class and working-class, black and white Parisians bump and collide into each other in a film driven by coincidences. Although the first third is almost unbearably grim, the tone becomes more and more suspenseful. Both Garcia and Seigner place their characters needs first, fully fleshing out their roles and not being merely cold hearted. Kiberlain brings understatement to a highly dramatic role, especially as, against her will, she falls in love. And as one of Carol’s many former paramours, Alex (Baer) has automatic charm and sex appeal that he uses to his advantages, though, in the end, it’s to his detriment. KT
May 30, 2003


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