One of Claude Miller’s finest films to date, Betty Fisher and Other Stories combines many of the director’s regular themes-childhood trauma, violent behaviour, social divisions-with a new sureness of touch in narrative style and stunning performances by the three female leads. The film is based on Ruth Rendell’s novel Tree of Hands, which Miller discovered after being impressed by fellow French director Claude Chabrol’s La Ceremonie, a chilling interpretation of Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone. Miller’s film isn’t as dark as Chabrol’s, but one of its outstanding qualities is the skill with which the director combines the comic and the serious as he juggles powerful, violent emotions with a sense of fun in the whole manipulative process of storytelling.
Perhaps best described as a psychological thriller with a sense of humour, Betty begins seriously enough as it details a tense mother-daughter relationship. Betty (Sandrine Kiberlain) is a successful young author who lives alone with her 4-year-old son Joseph. She’s put on edge by a visit from her disturbed mother, Margot (Nicole Garcia), who is visiting Paris for some medical tests. As we’ve already discovered from one of Miller’s characteristically ambiguous opening sequences, Margot suffers from an ailment that leads to sporadic fits of violence, some of which were directed against Betty as a child. In what appears to be a foolish and misguided attempt to prove her love for Betty, Margot kidnaps the young Jose to provide her daughter with a substitute child after Joseph is killed in an accident. This seemingly irresponsible act sets off a chain of events and complications involving Jose’s real mother, Carole (Mathilde Seigner), and her circle of friends.
Miller turns these interconnected stories into a multi-layered morality tale in which cause and effect are never clear-cut. Structured like a thriller, the film is full of unexpected twists and turns, but has a steely logic of its own. Child abuse, complicated mother-daughter relationships and notions of family are all explored with considerable wit and imagination. Following his intriguing experiment with digital filmmaking in Of Women and Magic, Betty Fisher shows that Miller can be as astute an observer of female psychology as he was of male behaviour in his earlier work.France-Canada, 2001. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby/dts digital stereo.
Claude Miller will introduce the 6.30 p.m. performance of Betty Fisher on Friday June 14 and answer questions after the screening. He will also appear for an on-stage interview about his career on June 15, after screenings of The Best Way to Walk and Garde à vue/The Inquisitor.