is blue. How did she get so down-and-out?
That would be a condition many of Georges Simenon’s characters found
themselves in. During the course of what is more of a psychological inquiry
than a criminal investigation, viewers will learn the truth about the
mysterious woman via flashbacks in Claude Chabrol’s Betty,
screens during the Anthology Film Archives’ Cine-Simenon
is fitting Betty Etamble found her way into The Hole. The aptly named restaurant caters to lost
souls and misfits. Evidently, the rabbit
is also delicious. Observing the woman drinking
herself into oblivion with a companion arguably even less stable than herself,
Laure Levaucher takes Etamble under her wing.
Ensconcing her in an adjoining room at the Versailles Trianon, her home
away from home, Levaucher slowly coaxes a confessional account out of Betty.
is fair to say Etamble has made her share of mistakes, but she is rather
self-aware of her compulsions and their origins in her childhood. However, the stifling nature of her former
life hardly helped matters. In fact, there
is probably plenty of blame to go around.
The nature of Levaucher’s interest in Etamble and vice versa is rather
less clear. In fact, Etamble’s intentions
throughout are decidedly murky.
for his own New York retrospective, Chabrol was an uncannily subtle filmmaker,
who excelled at hinting of dark doings just beyond our field of vision. The deceptively simple Betty was definitely in his power zone, privileging character and
mood over narrative. The film’s essence
is supposed to come to viewers through a slow dawning process rather than a
sudden flash of revelation. Mostly it
works, but that necessarily means Betty is
a purposeful slow burner.
of French cinema will also understand why Betty
promises greatness as a
post-divorce collaboration between Chabrol and his ex-wife and frequent muse,
Stéphane Audran, whose warm elegance as Levaucher stands in marked contrast to
the severe chill of the film’s characters and milieu.
film is sort of a family affair, starring Marie Trignant, the ill-fated
daughter of Audran’s first husband, Jean-Louis, in the title role. Sadly, her sensationalized and unnatural death
reads like fodder for a Simenon novel.
She is eerily convincing indulging in self-destructive hedonism and
reckless gamesmanship. Oddly though,
Chabrol consistently undercuts her as a femme fatale figure, presenting her in a
deliberately unappealing (albeit frequently nude) manner. More often than not, her Etamble is
booze-addled and inarticulate, looking disheveled with conspicuous raccoon rings
encircling her eyes.
represents the road less taken in film noir,
focusing on the intimacy of betrayal instead of a traditional crime story. The mood remains the same, but the pace is
decidedly more languid. Recommended for fans
of Chabrol and Simenon’s “roman durs,” Betty
screens tonight (8/13), Friday (8/16), and Saturday (8/17) at the Anthology
Film Archives, as part of their Cine-Simenon
Labels: Cine-Simenon, Claude Chabrol, French Cinema, Georges Simenon, Stephane Audran