View other movie reviews

Alias Betty

(Betty Fisher et Autre Histoires)

Alias Betty is the latest in a recent spate of French thrillers to arrive on this side of the pond. The movie, based on the novel by Ruth Rendell, details the lengths that desperate people will go to, in particular three mothers. Everything revolves around the kidnapping of Jose Novacki (Alexi Chatrian), and the ensuing media circus. In particular, three mothers are the focus of adapter/director Claude Miller (Class Trip, Lumiere and Company). Best-selling author Betty Fisher (Sandrine Kiberlain, False Servant, Everything's Fine, We're Leaving) recently moved back to France with her young son after a brief, failed marriage in the United States. Her mother Margot (Nicole Garcia, Kennedy and I, After Sex) is in town for some medical tests. She seems not to care at all that Betty has a child at all, and acts like one herself. She wants all of Betty's attention and time.

Tragedy strikes when Betty's child dies. This throws her into a deep depression, and brings out some strange maternal instincts in Margot. She decides to kidnap young Jose, and bring him back as Betty's new child, as if one could exchange a child. The entire concept horrifies Betty, who initially refuses to even acknowledge the child's presence. Eventually, she warms to the child, only to learn the circumstances surrounding his appearance. What she doesn't understand is the reaction of Jose's mother Carole (Mathilde Seigneur, With A Friend Like Harry, Venus Beauty Institute). On television, Carole doesn't seem to care much at all.

And this is exactly how she feels in real life. Jose almost seemed like a nuisance. Her boyfriend Francois (Luck Mervil, Notre-Dame du Paris) does care for Jose, so it is extremely ironic when he becomes the prime suspect in his kidnapping, primarily because he is black and because Carole seems indifferent on defending him. The situation becomes a moral dilemma for Betty. If she returns the child to his mother, she may be doing the right thing, but Carole clearly will not raise him well. On the other hand, if she keeps Jose, Carole is free to live whatever life she wants and Betty can once again raise a son.

As the movie nears its completion, Miller begins to tie the various threads together creating a heightened sense of tension. However, it takes a while for the momentum to start, to the point that Alias Betty begins on a fairly dull note. Plus, it's hard to root for any of the women because what each one of them is doing is wrong to a certain degree. Each woman is making amoral choices, but for Betty this seems out of character. It's puzzling why she allows the charade to go so far, enough so that it is a little distracting and nearly breaches the credibility of the film. The way that her feelings toward Jose also change pretty quickly, with no reason given as to why she changes her feelings. Alias Betty is also the type of movie that is exasperating in that it is hard to believe that real people act like this. If they would only speak to each other or say what's on their mind, many of the misunderstandings will go away completely, especially for somebody like Francois. But then, if the misunderstandings went away, the drama would too.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 43 minutes, French with English subtitles, Not Rated but contains language, some violence and sensuality, an easy R.

Back to Movies