Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Swindle

The Swindle (Claude Chabrol, 1997) [7]
The plot is fairly straight-forward in terms of the standard grifter/crime picture but Chabrol handles his basic material with a nuanced style that make of the film than it really is. Isabelle Huppert and Michel Serrault play small-time grifters that con businessmen and take just enough for them to think nothings missing. As the two set up for another con, Betty (Huppert) has plans of her own. She has methodically ingratiated herself into a seemingly innocuous money-runner who's transporting 5 million Swiss francs to the Caribbean. Suffice to say, the two get way in over their head, or at least it appears. What works simply beyond the standard caper premise is that Chabrol frames the film with enough twists and questions so that the viewer is never sure who is swindling who. It seems like Maurice, the runner, was planning to scam some of the money to begin with, with Betty and Victor (Serrault) ready to scam him. The problem is nothing is ever certain and Chabrol is smart enough in handling the key scenes never to give too much away. The final scenes in the Caribbean with the somehow humanistic crime boss let the viewer know as much as the characters on the screen know. If this had been a Hollywood picture, everything would have been explained in such nauseating detail that it would be boring and unoriginal. That, and the crime boss (played here by Jean-Francois Balmer) would have been a sadistic, over the top caricature instead a an actual human. Only at the end do we find out what really happened to the money, and it comes as almost an inconsequential element. Chabrol works with his characters in such a way that the relationship between Betty and Victor is much more interesting and honest than any elements of the crime or the money. Once again, in a mainstream American picture, any form of character development would have been sacrificed with unnecessary plot twists. I've always felt that Chabrol has a deft touch with handling complex human relationships and The Swindle shows that there can always be a little more to grifters than the crimes they commit.

Special note: This marks my last post from/in Binghamton. I am finally flying out and re-settling in Portland, Oregon. This site will be on a short hiatus while I get situated. I'm hoping that aside from more relevant reviews in regard to time, there will also be opportunities to view some experimental work, which I have not been able to see on a regular basis for a while. No matter what I've said of it, Binghamton has some charm, but the opportunity to experience more in terms of the arts is too strong a pull.

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