Such is the premise of Alias Betty, a curiously titled film that digs far deeper into questions about the appropriateness of parents and the definition of insanity -- all while deftly avoiding a drop into movie of the week territory.
This is a French film, after all (and based on a British novel, oddly, called The Tree of Hands), so expect a lot of brooding and maybe even a little illogical behavior. You'll have to keep up to get the full reward of Betty's bounty, and that means carefully following the action and the subtitles. Lots of characters fly in and out of the movie, and the plot zips between two main stories: Betty (Sandrine Kiberlain), the recipient of the new child, and Carole (Mathilde Seigner, Roman Polanski's sister-in-law), the mother of the missing kid. Betty seems like a more fit mother (though she's got issues of her own), but Carole obviously deserves to have her son returned, even though she's morally loose and doesn't really seem to care that little Jose (Alexis Chatrian) is missing. Her boyfriend takes up the case, though, and in a series of intricate subplots involving a scam-artist gigolo and a group of low-rent thugs, the story elements collide in Orly airport during the movie's dramatic conclusion.
Structurally, Alias Betty is needlessly convoluted, switching among stories at random, which fails to generate as much suspense as it could have. Kiberlain also makes for a questionable lead actress. She's not sympathetic enough to merit serious thought that Jose ought to remain with her. You're put in the odd position of having no mothers to root for instead of two people (which would have worked far better).
Still, Betty is immensely enjoyable as a clever thriller and a mildly interesting morality play. My description of the film will never be able to do it justice -- though director Claude Miller's history of intricately paced cops-and-lawyers movies might make the genre more apparent. Think The Usual Suspects, but without all the blood.
Aka Betty Fisher et autres histoires.
Run time: 103 mins
In Theaters: Friday 13th September 2002
Distributed by: President Films
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Fresh: 47 Rotten: 4
IMDB: 7.0 / 10
Director: Claude Miller
Screenwriter: Claude Miller
Starring: Sandrine Kiberlain as Betty Fisher, Nicole Garcia as Margot Fisher, Mathilde Seigner as Carole Novacki, Luck Mervil as François Diembele, Stéphane Freiss as Édouard, Yves Jacques as René le Canadien, Roschdy Zem as Dr. Jérôme Castang, Yves Verhoeven as Martinaud, Annie Mercier as Jacqueline, Michaël Abiteboul as Milo, Pascal Bonitzer as Monsieur Barsky, Béatrice Agenin as la maîtresse d'Alex, Consuelo De Haviland as Madame Barsky, Alexis Chatrian as José Novacki, Arthur Setbon as Joseph Fisher, Virginie Emane as Fatou, François Roy as Jean-Jean, Édouard Baer as Alex Basato