Alias Betty

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Alias Betty

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An intricate, Krzysztof Kieslowski-like web of coincidence nets together the many characters in Claude Miller's Alias Betty, but whether there's a Kieslowski-like significance to it all seems outside the film's realm of concern. Adapting the Ruth Rendell novel The Tree Of Hands, Miller presents one devastating event and then pulls back to capture the isolated, telling moments it sets in motion, letting those moments speak for themselves without worrying about the sum of it all. Recently returned to France with her young son in tow, a newly successful novelist (Sandrine Kiberlain) still bears the literal scars of an unhappy childhood, so she naturally seems on edge when her unstable mother (Nicole Garcia) comes to visit. The reunion takes a tragic turn when, in a sequence made all the more harrowing by Miller's restrained presentation, Kiberlain's son falls from a second-story height and dies, prompting Garcia to perform an astonishing act of irrational maternal compensation. No one will miss a child from the wrong side of the tracks, she reasons, so one day she simply shows up with one, assuming Kiberlain will eventually accept him as her own. From that point, the film branches out in several directions to portray the kidnapping's effects on the child's natural mother—a waitress and occasional prostitute played by Mathilde Seigner—and other characters both reputable and disreputable. When the kidnapping becomes national news, some try to twist it to their advantage, while others get swept up in its wake. Miller lets their stories fall into place like so many puzzle pieces, and at times, it's just a jumble: A lot goes on, and it doesn't always make sense. But the cast embodies Rendell's ability to incorporate shrewd observations on human behavior into the framework of a crime story, and Miller has a great eye for the places on the Paris outskirts where the lives of haves and have-nots intersect. The payoff, when it comes, makes the confusion worthwhile, but even without it, Alias Betty would be memorable for its depiction of a motherly love so extreme it both warms the heart and chills the blood.

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