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With: Isabelle Huppert, Michel Serrault, François Cluzet, Jean-François Balmer
Written by: Claude Chabrol
Directed by: Claude Chabrol
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 105
Date: 10/15/1997

The Swindle (1997)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Con Is On

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Claude Chabrol's fiftieth movie opens at the Lumiere for a one-week run, and it's a delight.

Chabrol was one of the pioneers of the French new wave, which included Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, and Jacques Rivette. In the 1950's they all spent hours upon hours studying and writing about movies--from both the USA and Europe--with the ultimate goal of making movies themselves. Of them, Chabrol is the one that has kept plugging along, the most workmanlike of the team. He reminds me of directors like Michael Curtiz or W.S. Van Dyke, who made dozens of films for the studios in the 30's and 40's and applied expert craftsmanship to each one. From those dozens, a few classics emerged, almost of their own will, like Casablanca and The Thin Man. Of Chabrol's 50 films, the ones that will be remembered are: Les Cousins (1959), Les Bonnes Femmes (1960), Les Biches (1968), Le Boucher (1969), Story of Women (1988), La Ceremonie (1995), and now The Swindle.

The Swindle is a Hitchcock-like story of small-time con artists; the radiant Isabelle Huppert (from the recent The School of Flesh) and the wonderful Michel Serrault (Diabolique, La Cage Aux Folles). As the movie starts, we see the pair already involved in a swindle, stealing money from a well-to-do lawnmower salesman at a convention. The catch is that they do not steal all his money, they leave enough behind so the loss won't be noticed immediately. After this scam, Huppert announces that she wants to take a vacation. They are to meet up again for a dentists' convention 10 days later in Switzerland. When Serrault gets there, he finds Huppert with a boyfriend (Francois Cluzet, from 'Round Midnight), who is transporting a suitcase with $5 million. Huppert has worked out a plan to take it, and Serrault agrees, even though it's far out of their league. What follows is a complex series of twists and turns, and our heroes wind up in the clutches of a big-time gangster who likes to listen to "Tosca."

Chabrol purposefully keeps us in the dark on much of the plot. The relationships are confusing. We don't know if Huppert and Serrault are related, lovers, or just partners. We don't know if Huppert and the younger Cluzet are lovers. In fact, we don't know who Huppert is allied with. Chabrol is not letting us in on the cons in the movie -- we are the suckers. He's trying to con us. It's slightly frustrating, but marvelous fun when you get into the swing of it.

Not only has Chabrol studied Hitchcock extensively, but he also wrote a great essay against so-called "noble" films, the kind that win Academy Awards. According to Chabrol, the investigation of a dead hooker is equally as noble as a soldier fighting a final battle, depending on the artistry of the material. In other words, The Swindle is the ultimate Chabrolian movie. It feels good to put yourself in the hands of a master and enjoy the ride.

DVD Details: New Yorker's belated but welcome 2006 DVD comes with a clip from a 1907 dance film and a trailer.

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