The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is the kind of film that is so boring and bereft of anything of possible interest that it becomes infuriating.
While their comrades in the French New Wave are either dead (Truffaut, Malle) or work rarely (Godard, Resnais, Rivette), Claude Chabrol and Eric Rohmer soldier on, prolific and creative. Other directors give difficult birth to each new project, but they've created worlds that easily produce new stories--Rohmer the world of minutely observed romance, Chabrol the world of crime and depravity.
"The Swindle'' is Chabrol's 50th film, made with the practiced ease of a master. It's typical of his droll confidence that a man sprawls asleep in a chair during a key scene involving death threats and the breaking of fingers--and typical of Chabrol's restraint that he never cuts to the sleeping man for a quick laugh, but only subtly reveals him on the edges of the screen.
The movie stars Isabelle Huppert and Michel Serrault as Betty and Victor (if those are indeed their real names). She's 40ish, he's 70ish, they're con artists, and it's impossible to say what their personal relationship is: friends? lovers? relatives? Even a hint at the end is left ambiguous. (It's a tribute to the actors, and to Chabrol, that in any given scene they could convincingly have any one of those three relationships.) The movie starts with a warm-up con game. Betty poses as an available woman in a casino, and reels in a wealthy hardware dealer. She spikes his drink, he passes out in his room, and she and Victor relieve him of some, but not all, of his money--so that when he comes to, he won't remember his wagers well enough to be sure he was robbed.
That caper establishes the working partnership. Then the film ventures into a more complicated con--so complicated we're never quite sure if Betty and Victor are even conning each other. Betty has latched onto a financial courier for a crime syndicate, and has her eyes on the millions of Swiss francs in his locked briefcase. "Swissss! Swissss!'' Victor hisses cheerfully, relishing the superiority of Swiss to French francs.