With a complex story (from Ruth Rendell’s novel “The Tree of Hands,”) writer-director Miller crafts a fascinating film about motherhood. Betty (Kilberlain) is a writer just back in Paris with her young son Joseph (Setbon). She has found literary success in America but now needs some time to herself; but life is interrupted by the arrival of her nosey, slightly mad mother Margot (Garcia). And when Joseph dies in an accident, Margot’s maternal instincts kick in and she kidnaps a lookalike boy named, eerily, Jose (Chatrian). Meanwhile, Jose’s mother Carole (Seigner) isn’t terribly worried–she hopes her son has found a better parent than her. But her boyfriend (Mervil) is furious, stalking Carole’s ex (Baer) and refusing to leave when she asks him to.
The twists and turns in the narrative keep us guessing what will happen, right up to the final clever resolution. There’s only one scene that rings false–a spurt of cinematic gunplay that feels way out of place. But the film’s strength lies in its ability to delve deep into each character’s story–we really get under their skin, and both the script and the fine performances never take an easy route through the material. As a result, we get an astonishing examination of motherhood–from the perspective of four bad mothers–while the men battle helplessly around the story’s edges. It’s vivid, involving and full of secrets and mistaken identities that will have fatal consequences. This makes it somewhat melodramatic (like Almodovar’s superb film of Rendell’s Live Flesh), but it’s also utterly spellbinding.