When Betty is caught en flagrante, her bourgeois in-laws and husband force a divorce settlement upon her and bar her from seeing her two daughters. She is rescued from an alcoholic stupor ... See full summary »
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When Betty is caught en flagrante, her bourgeois in-laws and husband force a divorce settlement upon her and bar her from seeing her two daughters. She is rescued from an alcoholic stupor by Laure, a middle-aged woman who takes Betty to her hotel lodgings, extends friendship and care, and listens to her story. Laure's lover, Mario, the proprietor of the bar where Betty and Laure met, is first a friend, then Betty's next conquest. Written by
The nineties didn't start under auspicious skies for Claude Chabrol. "Jours Tranquilles à Clichy" (1990) was a big bore, "Dr.M" (1990) constituted one more fiasco and one could have easily done without a new version of "Madame Bovary" (1991) which strictly brought nothing to Gustave Flaubert's novel.
So, after three failures on the trot, Chabrol turned to one of his favorite novelists, Georges Simenon hoping to find some help to boost his career again and he found it with the novel "Betty". He was so much taken with this novel that he decided to transfer it to the screen. It wasn't one of Simenon's most well-known novels but a commendable one all the same and it's easy to understand why Chabrol liked this novel so much. It assesses the portrait of an immoral woman who got a raw deal. She's like a driftwood in the throes of a river full of undertows and unbalanced by unfortunate events. A heartless mother who sent her to live with her aunt when she was young. The day she discovered her uncle having sex with a teenage girl, a loveless marriage in a bourgeois milieu whose members especially considered her as an object pregnancy so that the Etamble descendants could be assured, a scandal which obliged her to break with her upper-class family and her children. In Chabrol's work all these events are related as flashbacks and at the outset of the film, Betty is a complete drifter, wanders from café to café, is often on booze and fags (she spends a good half of the film with cigarettes and alcohol near her). In a rather sleazy bar, she's rescued by a rich widow, Laure (Stéphane Audran) who befriends with her. She also seems to be a woman with a heavy past behind her and searching for human warmth...
As Marie Trintignant once put it: "Chabrol likes these monstrous women who do terrible things with a total innocence". With this noteworthy opinion and the contents of the film, "Betty" is easy to locate in Chabrol's bushy filmography. One could regard it as the female cousin of "Violette Nozières" (1978), "une Affaire De Femmes" (1988) and "la Cérémonie" (1995). Without losing the thread of the plot, Chabrol unveils to the audience, key-elements in Betty's life which might have been watershed ones in the construction and the solidification of her numb and a little unfathomable persona. Chabrol was right not to give us available, direct solutions or weak possibilities to explain her actions and so his enigmatic heroine keeps all her mystery. To better emphasize her elusive character, the filmmaker bestowed his directing with deft, shrewd ideas. For instance, when Laure begins to speak about Mario her lover or herself, Betty doesn't appear to listen to her, she's completely immersed in her bitter memories and so, during Laure's words, the camera takes us in another time, another place like a dinner in her former bourgeois family. This kind of brainy idea tells a lot about the type of character that is Betty and also gives an inkling to the audience about her mind in disarray. And I particularly relish the very last shot which showcases her behind an aquarium whose water is unclear. It's self-explanatory...
"Betty" also provided to Chabrol another god-sent opportunity to deliver one more scathing attack on the upper-class milieu given that Betty's bourgeois family has a part of responsibility in her fall.
The two central performances command admiration and respect. Marie Trintignant and Stéphane Audran completely mesh together with easiness. For the latter, it would be the very last time she acted in a film made by her ex husband.
A compelling writing of the characters, a painstaking construction and the big efforts Chabrol put in this story of an ambiguous woman make "Betty" a real winner amid his uneven filmography. Unfortunately, his adaptations from Simenon didn't put the critics and the public on the same wavelength since the film had a fleeting life in the French theaters in spite of glowing reviews. The same mishap happened ten years ago with "les Fantômes Du Chapelier" (1982), another Simenon adaptation, inferior to "Betty". But never mind, in 1992 Chabrol found again his high artistic potential and the level will maintain itself with his two following works: the divine "l'Enfer" (1994) and "la Cérémonie" (1995).
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