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If you have never seen anything by Claude Chabrol, I would recommend that you see his masterpieces from the late sixties and early seventies first (This Man Must Die, Les Biches, La Boucher, La Femme Infidele, or Wedding in Blood). The tagline, "The French Hitchcock," has not served Chabrol very well, and is largely responsible, I would argue, for the director's descent into obscurity in recent years. (His mediocre work in the 90s has not helped matters). He has never been a darling of film critics or the advante garde, like a Truffaut or a Godard. His films exhibit neither the former's warmth and humanity, nor the latter's political and philosophical radicalism. And yet I would argue that Chabrol produced some of the most moving and politically subversive films of the 60s and 70s. Unfortunately, his very mastery of the medium is precisely what makes it so easy to neglect him as an auteur. His photography, editing, and writing are so seamless, so economical (wasting no movement of the camera or his actors), such that much occurs in his films, with out the viewer being aware of it. This is why it is so unfair to tag Chabrol the French Hitchcock. Not only do we already have a Hitchcock, but Chabrol's approach to suspense operates on a fundamentally different, and perhaps more profound, level (which is not to say that it is better or worse than Hitchcock's suspense). At the risk of sounding glib, Chabrol's suspense revolves around political and social relations, although the films themselves do their best to repress this aspect. Unlike Hitchcock, who in his less brilliant moments often had to resort to banal psychoanalytic dialogue (pretty much everything after 1950), Chabrol's treatment of "psychological" suspense is more refined. I place psychological in quotations because I think what one encounters with Chabrol is the canceling out of the merely psychological. Take, for example, La Femme Infidele. Some critics have often lamented that Chabrol's style is somewhat cold and matter-a-fact, in short, conventional. And yet how else could one capture the repressiveness of the relations of bourgeois life as brilliantly as Chabrol has done in this film. Think only of the austere sensuousness of Stephane Audran's legs in this film, and how perfectly these images exhibit the moral decadence of her world. Audran, who is the leading lady in at least half of Chabrol's films prior to 1980, stars in BETTY opposite Marie Trintignant. The relationship between Audran (at age 60) and the youthful Betty makes this picture one of the more provocative "sexual thrillers" in recent memory, and certainly better than anything presently being made in Hollywood. It's a shame that Chabrol's execution was not better. Not very many directors have the boldness or skill to film an older woman in erotic situations. Chabrol's directing of Audran in such situations is nothing short of masterful, and worth the rental fee alone.
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).
Psychological story of the friendship of two women and how one (and a
nurse yet) comes to rescue the other.
It's a cautionary tale of the rigid social structure of a certain class of French family where children and wives are treated more like possessions than humans. Note how she isn't allowed to interact with her children..that is handled by the spotless Swiss nanny. Her husband buys her a mink coat, and rather than call it an expression of his love, he calls it an investment. No wonder she begins to drink! And yet she makes a lot of bad choices, which leads her astray from her family, which is maybe what she really wanted....
Marie T. was so sad..her eyes were so sad that I wasn't surprised to find that the actress herself had been killed. The pain in her eyes seemed almost unbearable.
I was disappointed in the end...it seemed to just drop off with not much explanation...I know European movies are much more likely to end this way, and yet I said "Huh?"...and yet I still enjoyed it as a portrait of an increasingly obsolete segment of French society.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
(possible spoiler here) Marie Trintignant plays Betty, a troubled girl who weds an upper-class boy, son of a general. This is not a life for her : she quickly cheats on her husband and she drinks alcohol (hidden). One day her husband and mother in law come back too early from a theatre and find Betty having sex on a couch with a saxophonist. Scandal : the mother in law says "not on this !" (she's talking about the couch !). It says quite a lot. Betty has to leave home, and even her two children - for ever. There starts the movie : Betty meets Laure (playes by the great Stéphane Audran) in a bar called "le trou" (the hole). Both are drunk. Laure takes care of Betty and a nice friendship starts between these two women... This movie is, as always with Chabrol, very good, with a good acting and always a love/hate with the upper-class people. I bought the DVD last day because I wanted to see some images of Marie Trintignant. This wonderful black-haired girl died a week ago, aged 41 : her man, a rock singer (Bertrand Cantat) beated her to death in a hotel room in Vilnius, Lithuania. How sad. What we have left from Marie Trintignant is all her movies.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The settings, hair, makeup and cinematography were all excellent. I
love French films, and this one was no exception.
However this film WAS an exception in that the director taught no moral story and in fact withheld opinion, just showing the characters for what they are and do.
I found this very interesting. Somehow, even though the movie is titled after the lead character Betty and centers around her story more than anyone else's, to me this movie is just as much about the character Laure, the nurse who was so kind to Betty.
To me, Betty has an interesting story and is basically a narcissistic personality who really does not take into consideration how her actions might affect others; she simply does things however they suit her. Whereas Laure is a compassionate and caring person, thinking of others often, and it seems that her kindnesses to others are one of the only reasons she finds to keep living.
I love Laure, and in my opinion her character steals the show (as does the wonderful actress who played her role).
I am surprised, and a little dismayed, at how cold and passionless this adaptation of a Simenon book is. I haven't read Betty, but those works of Simenon I am familiar with don't make me reach for the thermostat the way Chabrol's film does. La veuve Couderc, Maigret et l'affaire St-Fiacre, Monsieur Hire, to name just three, have an engagement with life that is sorely lacking in this trifle. Why tell the story in fragmented style, à la Memento or Amores perros, when a straightforward sequential narration would do fine? Why use a character just to describe Betty's emotional states when we can guess at these from the visual evidence? Marie Trintignant conveys Betty's vapid, eager-to-please behaviour very well. Booze does blunt the emotions, increase or decrease aggression, make one sexually irresponsible just as we see on screen. Stéphane Audran as Laure drinks almost as much as Betty, but cannot forget she has feelings, is capable of compassion. Chabrol concentrates on satirizing the bourgeois family to the exclusion of practically everything else in the story.
Chabrol's true representations of women have made him a "Le Cinéaste Des Femmes".Betty signifies a change of pace for Chabrol as after years of thrillers,he has made a quiet film.Betty is a unique tale of a troubled bourgeois woman who felt that she could drown her sorrows in alcohol. Chabrol has accurately adapted Simenon novel as everything appears in a flashback.He has made it clear that he has not created neither a psychological portrait nor a moralistic drama.Betty is a collection of sharp observations on bourgeois life.She is a victim of circumstances as destiny did not favor her.Although,her marriage was based on love it didn't succeed as she was skeptical of it from the beginning.What she really wanted was companionship.Betty and Laure share a strange friendship built on mutual trust and respect.Betty's heartrending tale confirms that no woman will ever leave her family unless something tragic happens to her.
Betty is hard to understand. Not a victim, yet not a manipulator. She
suffers, yet she destroys what's around her for petty motives, or not
Cinematography is part of the story. Like at Berri's "Tchao pantin" (1983), Bernard Zitzermann's work enhances the story at the right time, and then releases its grip on us. When it pours rain and Betty is carried like merchandise from one tramp to another, you feel wet and desolate. The song "Je voulais te dire que je t'attends" is very effective too, I felt bad just by comparing the moving lyrics with what we were seeing, the road to nowhere.
Simenon is a love/ hate affair, I find it hard to be objective with him. I can't speak about his novels, but I can't say I like watching his cinema adaptations, they make me feel bad about everything in life after having watched them. And yet, I though they well made, atmospheric, immersing, in a sort of "descent to hell" way. I mean, it's like reading Dostoievsky but less melodramatic, and with way more sex & the facade of love as subjects.
This is a film about women. Marie Trintignat of course IS this movie. Frail, elegant, beautiful, but enigmatic, always following her own ways, in her private world where no one reaches her, it's hard to love her if one sees her objectively, but is nevertheless an alluring character. Reading her bio on IMDb is heavily interesting, it's like Claude C understood her personality, almost her "destiny", encapsulated it and gave it to us on celluloid, thus, making it last sort of forever.
Laure, on the contrary, while no angel, maybe sees in Betty some sort of projection of herself, some "lost soul to be saved", or in any case, she mothers Betty, in a non dominating way, firm when she has to, almost too perfect to be real.
Mario and Guy Etamble are characters devoid of soul, will or personality. Guy of course is dominated by the family, even when they made her sign the legal contract, it's "them", not him. Even the sister in law is there :)! So when they have to decide "what to do with her", it's a family affair, in which Guy is only one of the voices. And of course there Madame Etamble seems to be the only dominating force. Again, women are the only source of plot in this story.
A very "French" film in the use of a convoluted plot, frequent flashbacks, "originary scenes" all the time (torrid sex scenes unintended to be seen, but of course finally obvious, unless you think there is always a motif for everything, so ... :)). Psychoanalysis is a commanding force, "manifestly" in the mouth of one of Betty's lovers, the intellectual, spectacled Freud follower, but "latently" in all of this oeuvre.
dbdumonteil's review has probably the best quote on this film, by Marie T., you better read it from his review proper.
Chabrol loves to hate the bourgeoisie, so it's no news they look silly and dumb here. The "bourgeois wealth, rigid roles, invisible servants, funless family in short". Chabrol would probably put the blame of most on them, but we don't have to. Nothing new by now, no big deal, Claude :).
This is a cautionary tale in many ways, but of course you'll have to watch this movie to find out why.
PS: The storyline review by "email@example.com" has spoilers, can't anybody do something about it?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I missed this one first time around if indeed it ever played in England and lately I've been buying some Chabrol dvds mostly titles he shot in the 70s so this was something of a natural choice. There aren't that many comments on this and some of them seem to let the violent death of Marie Trintignant influence their critical faculties. Whilst it's undeniable that Trintignant does appear as a slightly ethereal creature with eyes freighted heavily with sadness in this film it's probably better to see this as coincidence rather than forecast. Apart from ethereal there's also something UNreal about the entire situation. We're asked to accept the premise that a very attractive if not actually beautiful young woman would allow herself to drift through life letting life happen to HER rather than attempting to impose any order on it. Having married well and then taken a lover would she really invite him into her husband's family home for a quickie aware that the husband and his mother - who had gone to the theatre - could return at any moment (as indeed they do)and within the hour have a lawyer on the scene drafting an agreement whereby Betty forfeits all rights to see her children in return for a healthy check with further installments to come. Would she then, with several thousand francs in her handbag and the promise of regular monthly payments, become a hooker in all but name, being picked up indiscriminately by men in which she has little interest either fiscal or physical. While we're talking far-fetched why would an elderly man pick up women in Paris and drive them out to a seedy club in Versailles apart from providing an opportunity for Betty to encounter Laure (Stephane Audran), yet another wealthy person with a taste for the sleazy who decides to befriend Betty. Though you are aware of these inconsistencies it does not prevent you watching a highly watchable film and admiring the two central performances but it's not necessarily a film to which you would want to return.
Claude Chabrol may be best-known for kicking off the Nouvelle Vague
movement with LE BEAU SERGE (1958) and for being the French master of
suspense; that does not mean that he dwelt exclusively in the thriller
genre and, indeed, hot on the heels of Chabrol's unexpected adaptation
of Gustave Flaubert's MADAME BOVARY (1991), came this oddball feminist
melodrama which, a minor effort though it might be, also proves a
surprisingly engaging work.
Actually, the source novel for it was the handiwork of celebrated pulp writer Georges Simenon and Chabrol's film version is buoyed by a spunky central performance from the ill-fated Marie Trintagnant (the daughter of actor Jean-Louis and director Nadine, she died in 2003 aged 41 from a cerebral haemorrhage, following a beating-up by her live-in boyfriend!) and a quietly mature one by Chabrol's former wife and frequent muse Stephane Audran.
The title character is a woman who, marrying above her station, is subsequently thrown out of her house after she gives in to her baser instincts; as a result, she takes to an aimless existence on the streets, drinking and chain-smoking her nights away in the company of strangers. Thankfully, she is picked up from the gutter by an enigmatic middle-aged woman (with a much younger companion) who installs her into her own lavish apartment and gradually helps her pick up the pieces of her broken-down life. But the innately sensuous qualities of the waif-like Betty soon catch the attention of her benefactor's boyfriend and, perhaps inevitably, tragic circumstances ensue.
The low-key qualities of BETTY are countered by Chabrol's decision to structure his film as a complex maze of flashbacks which depict (and contrast) the stuffy, ordered, aristocratic lifestyle the protagonist suffered through in her married past, versus her new, chaotic but free-spirited present state. All in all, therefore, the film can be counted as yet another feather in Chabrol's prolific and largely consistent cap.
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