Betty Fisher and Other Stories, a stylish French thriller, part psychological study and part ensemble suspense story, tells us about Brigitte Fisher (Betty is her nom de plume), a young woman who has written a successful novel. In New York she married briefly, had a child and has returned to Paris. She had an unpleasant childhood with a mother who at times would become irrationally angry. Brigitte's marriage lasted six months. Now her son is four years old and her mother has unexpectedly arrived for medical "treatments."
Days later, Brigitte's son falls from a second floor window and dies. Brigitte (Sandrine Kiberlain) is distraught and depressed. Her mother takes steps to fix that...by stealing a four-year-old child from a lower-class neighborhood and bringing the boy home for her daughter. Betty at first rejects the child but then slowly becomes attached. And we learn about the child's real mother, Carole Novacki, a surly young barmaid, shoplifter and part-time prostitute. We also meet Carole's live-in boy friend, Francoise, a laborer from Africa; Milo, the bartender with a short fuse where Carole works; Alex, the hustler, long-time friend and occasional bed-mate of Carole; and there's Eduard, Brigitte's former husband who shows up and sees Brigitte now as a literary bread ticket. There is a whole cast of characters, including the police who are searching for the stolen boy. Their stories swirl around Brigitte's story, sometime overlapping, sometimes just glancing by.
The stories come together at Orly Airport in a bloody confrontation which leaves these people and their stories getting what they deserve. Which means some die, some flee and some get on an airplane for Singapore.
The director, Claude Miller, does two things very well. He not only involves us with all these stories, he gives them an overlay of uneasy tension. Especially with Brigitte, her mother and the stolen boy, there is an edgy dread that quickly establishes itself. It eases up only when we realize the boy will survive, but there still is the question of what will happen to him. Miller also gives us some strong characters to get involved with, even if we don't like them too much. There's no flashy acting moments, just the steady building of information about these people, which Miller lets us discover for ourselves. The actors, in my view, all do fine jobs. Sandrine Kiberlain as Brigitte carries the movie and she handles her character with depth and skill. Nicole Garcia, who plays Brigitte's mother, makes us nervous whenever we see her. Just how unstable is Margot Fisher? The story, by the way, is from one of Ruth Rendell's psychological thrillers.
This is a movie that keeps something of a cool distance from the many goings on. I don't think this is a fault. It helps us examine Brigitte's evolving feelings and helps us make choices about the characters. I'd be surprised if any viewer doesn't finally agree with Brigitte's choice.