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SWINDLE, THE (RIEN NE VA PLUS)(director/writer: Claude Chabrol; cinematographer: Eduardo Serra; editor: Monique Fardoulis; cast: Isabelle Huppert (Betty), Michel Serrault (Victor), Francois Cluzet (Maurice), Jean-Francois Balmer (Monsieur K), Jackie Berroyer (Chatillon); Runtime: 101; New Yorker Films; 1997-France)
“This is one of Chabrol’s poorer films.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is one of Chabrol’s poorer films. It is the fiftieth one for the 68-year-old French director and one of his more playful ones. But his lifetime of running gags against the bourgeoisie and his attempt to make this a giddy film, just didn’t hold up. Though there are some delightfully coy moments as a pair of small time scam artists, 70ish Victor (Michel Serrault) and, the 40ish sexpot, Betty (Isabelle Huppert), work their nonviolent schemes in a casino and at a dentists’ convention. Their relationship is one of longtime friends, business partners and, possibly, at one time, they were lovers. But it was never clearly spelled out what their intimate relationship was, as Chabrol likes to keep one guessing. Betty, even sardonically, calls Victor daddy throughout much of the film. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were related in that way.

Betty picks up a fellow gambler at the casino’s baccarat table and takes him to a bar, where she palms herself off as a director of an insurance company and slips a sleep inducing narcotic into his drink and takes the romantically inclined lawn mower business proprietor back to his hotel room. Undressed in her black slip she seductively waits for him to conk out and for her wily partner Victor to come in and go through his belongings, cleverly stealing a small percentage of money in the rich man’s wallet and forging his signature on a check, while leaving his credit cards untouched. When the vic awakens, he won’t even realize that he’s been robbed.

The con artists next head separately for a Swiss resort named Sils Maria (where Nietzsche wrote Thus Spake Zarathustra), which is near St. Moritz, to work one of their schemes on a dentists’ convention. He arrives a bit later than she does and uses the pseudonym of the retired Colonel Emmanuel Victor, a role which he plays with panache. Betty is now impersonating a Russian blonde named Sissi, who has swooped down on a dashing young businessman courier, Maurice (Francois Cluzet). This relationship makes Victor jealous. But she tells him that he’s their pigeon, he is carrying $5 million in Swiss francs in his attache case and is up to cheating his firm out of it. Victor is upset that she has switched the original plan he had for working a scam on the dentists, thinking this one is too big and dangerous.

Maurice is scheduled to bring the money to Guadeloupe to be exchanged, and Chabrol adroitly uses all his many years of filmmaking skills to show double-crosses and switches of bags and how things can go violently wrong with even the best of schemes. But it is mostly a story about the two characters, their needs and how they relate to each other. Each character becoming unpredictable. That forms most of the wry comedy. There is also interest as to how and if the swindle can be pulled off by the couple, who are not always honest with each other.

This caper story seemed stale. It did not splash across the screen with verve and audacity, as much as Chabrol intended it to. The director seemed to try too hard to relive his past with many allusions to characters and inside jokes from his many films, with the old master pulling out his tricks of the trade from a hat with too much ease to be believable.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”