Claude Chabrol's Latest Thriller a Real `Swindle'

By Arnold, Gary | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 11, 1999 | Go to article overview

Claude Chabrol's Latest Thriller a Real `Swindle'


Arnold, Gary, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


"The Swindle," showing exclusively at the American Film Institute Theater, is reputed to be the 50th feature directed by Claude Chabrol.

His ongoing career began auspiciously in the late 1950s with an ominously impressive and stylish quartet: "Le Beau Serge" and "The Cousins" in 1958 and "Les Bonnes Femmes" and "Web of Passion" ("Un double tour" was the original French title) in 1959.

Nearing 70, Mr. Chabrol has not mellowed as agreeably as Eric Rohmer, his contemporary and fellow Alfred Hitchcock enthusiast. The Rohmer format - intimate character study and conversational comedy - seems to lend itself to sounder variations than Mr. Chabrol's suspense thrillers, typically dominated by corrupt and predatory specimens.

Nevertheless, it's satisfying to reflect that these charter members of the French new wave are still productive and reliable.

"The Swindle" bears fleeting resemblances to Hitchcock's last feature, "Family Plot," which revolved around a pair of con artists who miscalculated and ended up in peril from some genuinely ruthless, vindictive crooks.

Michel Serrault and Isabelle Huppert are cast as a kind of father-daughter team, Victor and Betty, who may or may not be more than professional colleagues. She calls him "Daddy," but it appears to be a facetious term of endearment.

They specialize in fleecing conventioneers who mistake Betty for a one-night stand. We observe an introductory sting that lets down the victim as gently as possible: Anticipating carnal delight, he is dosed with a sedative and relieved of part of the contents of his wallet, enough to profit the swindlers but not enough to clean out the victim.

This introductory phase, set at a hotel and casino, unfolds with entertaining confidence. The conception is stale, but the scenes get the job done. Our curiosity is aroused about Victor and Betty, and we're prepared for subsequent situations that might test their larcenous skills.

Ostensibly, they're put to an acid test involving life-or-death consequences, but this follow-up caper proves poorly contrived. …

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