Small-time scammers bite off more than they can chew in Chabrol’s rather uneven but perversely fun crime comedy, headlined by Isabelle Huppert and the scene-stealing Michel Serrault.
Dir. Claude Chabrol
1997 | France/Switzerland | Comedy/Crime/Drama | 106 mins | 1.66:1 | French and other languages
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for disturbing scene and coarse language
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Michel Serrault, Francois Cluzet
Plot: Betty and Victor, an ill-matched couple, tour around France living on part-time swindles. However, when naive financial courier Maurice stumbles into their web, they come involved in an international money laundering affair that might become their biggest score yet.
Subject Matter: Moderate – Scamming, Deception
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Fresh from La ceremonie (1995), one of Claude Chabrol’s very best works, Isabelle Huppert once again teams up with the prolific French New Wave director (apparently this is his fiftieth (!) film) in this somewhat minor effort about small-time scammers and the nature of good and bad luck.
High gains come with great risks as Huppert’s Betty and Victor (the scene-stealing Michel Serrault, who’s most well-known for his role in 1978’s La Cage aux Folles) work together to target and swindle folks out of tens of thousands of francs so that they can eke out a comfortable existence.
“You’re the most perverse creature I know.”
Chabrol has made The Swindle as much about the swindling as it is about the tempestuous relationship between Betty and the much older Victor—we aren’t sure if they are a married couple, a woman with a sugar daddy, or just long-time friends with similar goals.
The fun of it comes from seeing their love-hate interactions, a source of comedy that when contrasted with the increasing perversity on show (particularly during its stretched-out but effectively suspenseful climax involving big-time corporate ‘gangsters’), gives the film a kind of tone that Hitchcock (in less serious mode) would be proud of.
Overall, The Swindle feels quite uneven with its sappy epilogue the worst culprit, though one could be forgiving as Chabrol fashions a largely engaging and highly-plotted work.