In Britain, Ruth Rendell novels are adapted into humdrum Sunday night telly. On the continent, they have bigger, better ambitions. In the wake of Claude Chabrol's La Cérémonie and Pedro Almodóvar's Live Flesh, veteran writer-director Claude Miller has brought another of her taut crime stories to the big screen (The Tree Of Hands).
The plot revolves around two dysfunctional families: one consisting of troubled single mum and writer Betty Fisher (Sandrine Kiberlain), her son Joseph (Arthur Setbon) and her selfish mother Margot (Nicole Garcia); the other comprising sluttish breadliner Carole Novacki (Mathilde Seigner), her son Jose (Alexis Chatrian) and her lodger/boyfriend Francois (Luck Mervil). Chuck in a tragic death, a kidnap, a prodigal husband, some gangsters and a subplot involving a big con by a toy-boy scammer (Edouard Baer), and you have an engaging, intricate tale which isn't afraid to plait plot strands into new patterns.
The problem is that those strands are tied up in far too neat a manner. Miller promises much by blurring morality and inventively chopping up the narrative, then fluffs it come the climax.
Despite this, though, Betty Fisher And Other Stories is still considerably smarter than your average crime pic and, for the more adventurous cinemagoers out there, worth investigating.