Alias Betty

on September 13, 2002 by Tim Cogshell
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Sometimes, things that are in fact coincidental still have far-reaching effects that transcend chance. Sometimes things that are demonstrably wrong, even criminal, are in fact so right, so completely the only thing to do, the underlying wrong of it is rendered moot. These are the themes in writer/director Claude Miller's completely captivating "Alias Betty" (which has its own alias: Prior to release, it had been known as "Betty Fisher and Other Stories"), an extraordinary film about happenstance as redemption and salvation.

The narrative is difficult to explain, both because of Miller's Kieslowski-esque weaving of seemingly disparate stories that ultimately intermingle in the most profound ways, and because to discuss it too much undermines the film's very particular intention and effect. Suffice it to say, Betty (Sandrine Kiberlain in an excellent and award-winning performance) suffers a great loss that her clinically psychotic mother (Nicole Garcia) takes upon herself to correct. In due course, the lives of several individuals, including those of Betty; a little boy named Jose; the boy's mother--a promiscuous bar hostess with a dark streak--Carole (Mathilde Seigner); Carole's boyfriend, a kind man with a gentle nature, Francois (Luck Mervil); a charming forger named Alex (Edouard Baer), who's constantly involved with schemes to get rich and avoid work; and Betty's estranged ex-husband, a failed poet--among others. All become intertwined in ways that one could not imagine, unless one was novelist Ruth Rendell, from whose book the film was adapted.

Considered carefully, one might conclude that the incidents in "Alias Betty" are not about happenstance at all. Indeed, all of the characters act and react exactly as would be expected in the context of their development. No lies are told within the narrative to manipulate circumstances (or the audience), and each individual fate plays out as might be expected, right through to the last scene. It's pithy without being saccharine; it's funny without ever not taking itself seriously; it's full of beautiful characters and great performances; and it's in French, which gives it a particular lilt, despite the subtitles, which are surprisingly few because of how much of the story Miller tells without dialogue, depending instead on juxtaposition of characters and mood. This is an extraordinarily well-executed film. Starring Sandrine Kiberlain, Nicole Garcia, Mathilde Seigner, Luck Mervil, Edouard Baer, Roschdy Zem and Stephane Freiss. Directed and written by Claude Miller. Produced by Annie Miller and Yves Marmion. A Wellspring release. Drama. French-language; subtitled. Unrated. Running time: 101 min

Tags: Nicole Garcia, Mathilde Seigner, Luck Mervil, Edouard Baer, Roschdy Zem, Stephane Freiss, Yves Marmion, Drama, Sandrine Kiberlain, Claude Miller, Annie Miller
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