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  Rien Ne Va Plus You can't con a con artist
Year: 1997
Director: Claude Chabrol
Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Michele Serrault, François Cluzet, Jean-François Balmer, Jackie Berroyer, Jean Benguigui, Mony Dalmès, Thomas Chabrol, Greg Germain, Nathalie Kousnetzoff, Pierre Martot
Genre: Comedy, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Betty (Isabelle Huppert) and Victor (Michele Serrault) are small-time con artists preying mostly on middle-aged men at business conventions. Betty lures a gullible stooge to her hotel room and drugs him unconscious whereupon she and Victor go through his cash, credit cards and passport. Victor operates by a golden rule: never be greedy, take just a little bit from each victim. Betty however, grows more ambitious. At a ski resort in the Alps she abandons their initial target, a humble dentist, for a more affluent quarry in Maurice (François Cluzet). Betty tells Victor that Maurice works as a courier for a gang of money launderers and is transporting an attaché case of five million Swiss francs to the Caribbean. For once Victor lets greed get the better of him and goes along with Betty's plan until things take a decidedly nasty turn.

Also known as The Swindle and, alas, nothing to do with the Funk Factory song of the same name, Rien Ne Va Plus found French psychological thriller maestro Claude Chabrol on frothier form than usual. Here he crafts something of a precursor to the kind of playful con capers Hollywood began to crank out a decade later, e.g. Ocean's Eleven (2001), The Art of the Steal (2013) and Focus (2015). The pace is punchier than usual though still more leisurely and character driven compared to your average slick caper fare that more often fetishize the con itself from an array of angles. In fact it takes a good thirty minutes plus for the plot to kick in. Between then Chabrol proves overly enamoured with quirky comic moments more suited to sit-coms. Victor goes out of his way to avoid an amorous elderly hotel guest (Mony Dalmès), poses as an eccentric Colonel and, for no obvious reason beyond Chabrol's fondness for food, chows down on an array of delicacies from wild mushrooms to a juicy kebab.

The plot hangs on the old 'who is really conning who?' gambit. As it becomes apparent Betty has actually known Maurice for some time, Chabrol keeps us guessing whether she is scamming her old mentor or if Victor is out to double-cross her. However, in keeping with the generally light tone, the thematic arc ultimately reinforces the bond between the two anti-heroes as each comes to realise they are better off together than working at cross purposes. The over-qualified cast keep things watchable with charismatic Michel Serrault and chameleon-like Isabelle Huppert, in what ranks as one of her lesser collaborations with Chabrol compared with Violette Nozière (1978), La Cérémonie (1995) or Merci pour la chocolat (2000), on fine form. However, the humour is too dry for farce, too frothy for satire.

All laughter evaporates once the third act swerves into darker territory but, aside from one grisly discovery well played by Huppert, the arch performances and largely frivolous tone deflate any attempts at suspense. Like a lot of con artist films there is the nagging sense Rien Ne Va Plus is trying to be too clever for its own good and the would-be romantic coda proves unsatisfying. Not top league Chabrol then but Eduardo Serra's glossy photography of the snowy scenery is beautiful to behold.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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Claude Chabrol  (1930 - 2010)

A renowned director of French thrillers, he was one of the originators of the French New Wave of the fifties and sixties, often concentrating on middle class characters going through crises that led to murder, and made around fifty of these films in his long career. Starting with Le Beau Serge in 1958, he went on to direct such respected efforts as Les Cousins, The Champagne Murders, Les Biches, This Man Must Die, Le Boucher, Blood Relatives, Poulet au Vinaigre, a version of Madame Bovary with frequent star Isabelle Huppert, L'enfer, La Ceremonie, The Girl Cut in Two with Ludivine Sagnier, and his final work for the cinema, Bellamy with Gerard Depardieu.

 
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