claude miller is a specialist in slow-motion thrillers, psychological studies in which the longest fuses are on people, not bombs. Garde A Vue is a psychological duel between Lino Ventura's detective and Michel Serrault as the suspect, and Mortelle Randonée captures perfectly the endless obsessiveness of Marc Behm's The Eye Of The Beholder, although the film seems to have vanished into outer darkness.
Ruth Rendell's The Tree Of Hands is perfect Miller material, a thriller devoid of car chases or explosions, with a group of characters operating at tangents to one another.
The story centres on Sandrine Kiberlain's Betty Fisher, a successful writer whose long and complicated relationship with her mother (Nicole Garcia) is anchored in an act of horrific violence in Betty's childhood. The plot kicks in when Betty's child dies and Mom, who is not a well person, decides to help her by kidnapping her a new child.
And that's just in the first 20 minutes or so of this intricately constructed puzzle, a picture where we know everything that's happening but only think we know where it's going.
The characters to whom we're introduced -- a server at a bar, a dealer in false passports, some cops -- all circle around the truth without ever getting to it, and all are drawn in exquisite detail by a first-rate cast
Acting honours, though, go to the stars. Kiberlain is my favourite French actress whose films never play in North America: Tout Va Bien, On S'en Va; Rien Sur Robert; A Vendre. In Betty Fisher, she captures a woman whose control of her life vanishes in the face of emotional trauma -- it's a terrific instance of an actor holding a picture by acting more quietly than everyone around her.
After Monsoon Wedding, it's my favourite film so far this year.
BETTY FISHER AND OTHER STORIES written and directed by Claude Miller from the novel The Tree Of Hands by Ruth Rendell, produced by Yves Marmion and Annie Miller, with Sandrine Kiberlain, Nicole Garcia, Mathilde Seigner and Luck Mervil. 102 minutes. A UGC Production. An Odeon Films release. Opens Friday (April 12). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 89. Rating: NNNNN