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Alias Betty

Not rated, 103 min. Directed by Claude Miller. Starring Alexis Chatrian, Yves Jacques, Stéphane Freiss, Edouard Baer, Luck Mervil, Mathilde Seigner, Nicole Garcia, Sandrine Kiberlain.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Dec. 27, 2002

Alias Betty is either a fascinating study of the relationship between mothers and their children or a disturbing story about sociopaths and their marks. I'm not sure, but both readings of this taut French thriller seem fair. Based on Ruth Rendall's The Tree of Hands, Alias Betty is told in a sketchy fashion that follows events in the lives of separate but interlocking characters, whose storylines contrast and coalesce toward meaning. Betty (Kiberlain), born Brigitte, has moved back to France with her young son (but minus her husband) following the popular success of her book. She is joined by her mother Margot (Garcia), a woman suffering from a blood disease that makes her do erratic things. (In an opening prologue, we see Margot and Betty/Brigitte on a train years ago and witness Margot suddenly stabbing her daughter in the hand with a pair of scissors.) Shortly after, Margot steals a similarly aged young boy to bring home to her daughter. The boy, Jose (Chatrian), is the unwanted son of an abundantly promiscuous woman (Seigner), who doesn't really care to have him around. The way the story cuts back and forth among these three mothers presents a contrast in their parenting styles and involvement in their children's lives. Several male characters also dance around the periphery and stir the plot forward until it all conveniently starts to dovetail. All the characters and their individual dramas are unwitting players in a larger, more elaborate chess game. It's satisfying when you see the pieces begin to come together, but at the same time it's all distressingly vague. The events are all too convenient to be realistic, but too sketchy to be harboring greater meaning. Certain scenes -- especially those between Kiberlain and Garcia -- are rich with unspoken emotions and gestures. And to its credit, the film's conclusion leaves all the questions it raised as open-ended as they were going in. Alias Betty makes it pretty difficult to tell the difference between good mothers and bad.
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