Alias Betty

Three mothers, two children, a multitude of crimes: French director Claude Miller's adaptation of English novelist Ruth Rendell's The Tree of Hands, an intricate tale of guilt, grief and dark serendipity, is so deft it's hard not to gasp with delight as the plot's pieces slide into place and its machinery begins humming. Betty Fisher (Sandrine Kilberlaine),...read more

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Three mothers, two children, a multitude of crimes: French director Claude Miller's adaptation of English novelist Ruth Rendell's The Tree of Hands, an intricate tale of guilt, grief and dark serendipity, is so deft it's hard not to gasp with delight as the plot's pieces slide into place and its machinery begins humming. Betty Fisher (Sandrine Kilberlaine), 27, survived a tumultuous childhood defined the whims and violent rages of her beautiful, unbalanced mother, Margot (Nicole Garcia). And though Betty's marriage to American poet Edouard (Stephane Freiss) dissolved bitterly over her desire for a child, cruel fate has recently cut her some slack. Betty adores her little boy, Joseph (Arthur Setbon), and channeled her unhappiness into a novel that became an unexpected best seller and paid for a house in a quiet Parisian suburb. It's a calm, mature Betty who awaits a visit from Margot, en route to France to have some medical tests. Margot's madness has been medicated into submission, but she blows back into Betty's life in a self-centered whirlwind gust of complaints, demands and petty criticism, and Betty feels herself in danger of reverting to her childhood role as timorous daughter. And then she's plunged into a mother's worst nightmare: Her beloved Joseph falls from a window and dies. Margot assumes the unfamiliar role of loving caretaker, and, a month later, Betty begins to emerge from her fog of grief and discovers a strange child in her home. Margot at first claims little Jose (Alex Chatrain) is the child of vacationing friends, but soon admits that she kidnapped the boy from a nearby housing project as a replacement for Joseph. "He's the same sort of boy," Margot reasons. Betty intends to contact the police until she discovers that Jose's body bears the unmistakable signs of abuse. Meanwhile, Jose's disappearance is being treated as a possible homicide, and his sullen, slutty, and not especially grief-stricken mother, Carole (Mathilde Seigner), and her gentle, African-French boyfriend, Francois (Luck Mervil), are under intense scrutiny. The police suspect Francois, while Francois suspects Carole's ex-boyfriend Alex (Edouard Bear), a con artist who, with Carole's encouragement, is preparing to sell a mansion he doesn't own to a pair of shady Russians. These narrative strands eventually wind themselves into a knot as tight and neat as it is intricate, and if the ending isn't conventionally happy, it's certainly deeply satisfying. (In French, with subtitles)

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Three mothers, two children, a multitude of crimes: French director Claude Miller's adaptation of English novelist Ruth Rendell's The Tree of Hands, an intricate tale of guilt, grief and dark serendipity, is so deft it's hard not to gasp with delight as th… (more)

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