Original release: October 15th, 1997
Running time: 105 minutes
Country of origin: France
Original language: French
Writer and director: Claude Chabrol
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Michel Serrault, Francois Cluzet
I’ve always enjoyed, in my formative years especially, watching films that tricked me in some way. Whether this was through a last minute twist ending or by keeping characters’ motivations ambiguous until the final reveal, I generally lapped it up. That love of a good mystery was the reason I so much enjoyed detective stories like Sherlock Holmes and Poirot. It’s not necessarily a case of wanting to work out the answer before it’s revealed as much as enjoying being unsure and putting the clues together; naturally, on the few occasions that I pipped Jonathan Creek to the punch I was very proud of myself, but I wasn’t downhearted if I wasn’t able to crack it; I just enjoyed the riddle.
This love hasn’t abated as I’ve grown older and although my reading and film tastes may have broadened significantly, I still have a soft spot for a mystery. As such, I can derive enjoyment from books and movies that are perhaps lacking a bit of quality but which have a case to be solved and this has perhaps been, in part, the catalyst for my great love of Film Noir.
Given all this, Rien Ne Va Plus (The Swindle), a French comedy-mystery from Claude Chabrol, seemed to be right up my street.
Chabrol was one of the founders of the Nouvelle Vague, though was often considered one if its more mainstream directors, and is known for being a master of mystery. The plot of Rien Ne Va Plus sees two con artists working on a small scale by running scams on professional men attending conferences at casinos. Essentially, Betty (Isabelle Huppert), rocks up to a man riding high on a winning streak and seduces him, then drugs him when back at his hotel room. Moments later, her partner in crime, Victor (Michel Serrault), arrives and they fleece the dozing mark, taking just enough so he doesn’t realise he’s been robbed.
Things take an interesting turn, however, when Betty arrives in Switzerland – where she and Victor are intending to relieve some dentists of their hard won cash – arm in arm with another young man. It seems that Betty has decided to take on a long con when it transpires that her beau Maurice (Francois Cluzet) is the bent treasurer of a fabulously wealthy multi-national company. He’s intending to take his paymasters’ money, so Betty and Victor decide to take it instead.
What Rien Ne Va Plus does really well is it keeps the relationship between Betty and Victor entirely ambiguous. Perhaps they’re in love, deep down, perhaps not. They enjoy their work together and live on top of one another as they travel around in a mobile home, but both seem indifferent to being apart when Betty decides to take off for a break ahead of the Swiss job. Or they’re putting on a facade of indifference to hide their feelings. Trying to determine their relationship becomes somewhat secondary once Maurice arrives.
Victor’s jealous, but more importantly, it becomes almost impossible to tell whether Betty is looking to swindle Maurice and escape with Victor, or vice versa, or even take them both for all they have and disappear. We’re reminded of the similarities to the Frank Oz directed crime comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988). This is where that joy of the mystery can be found. With each scene it’s suggested that Betty’s certainly on Victor’s side and then, the next moment on Maurice’s. There’s not a moment, until the final act, that we can be sure of what her intentions are – or either of the men’s for that matter.
What Rien Ne Va Plus is slightly less successful at is its comedy. The film is a light-hearted romp (well, until the goons from Maurice’s company turn up), but it’s never quite as funny as it feels it should be. There are definitely moments to make us chuckle, but they’re inconsistent and you’d be hard pressed to find a single belly laugh.
The other interesting thing, which is perhaps just a matter of taste, is that in a large majority of films like this – not all, naturally, but many – the lead con-artists are likeable for some reason. They’re either very funny, or they only con bad people like those in the TV show Hustle or even the crew from the Ocean‘s films. Regrettably, despite being charming and at times amusing, Betty and Victor never quite win us over enough to mean we don’t find them fleecing innocent dentists a bit cruel. Or at least they didn’t win me over. Still, Rien Ne Va Plus is an enjoyable caper with enough enigma to keep us guessing until the conclusion.
Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.
His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.