CAST: Sandrine Kiberlain, Nicole Garcia, Mathilde Seigner, Luck Mervil, Edouard Baer, Stephane Freiss, Roschdy Zem, Alexis Chatrian, Arthur Setbon

DIRECTOR: Claude Miller

Devastated by the accidental death of her young son, esteemed French novelist Betty Fisher (Sandrine Kiberlain) holes up in her elegant home, alternating between grief and rage and seriously contemplating suicide. It's clear there is nothing that can make her accept the loss of her beautiful, dark-eyed Joseph.

But wait a minute--here comes Betty's mother (Nicole Garcia)--an emotionally explosive woman who abused Betty physically and psychologically as a child--and she has a replacement for Joseph in tow, a beautiful, dark-eyed kid she's literally picked up off the street in a shabby Parisian suburb. Betty is infuriated by her mother's insensitivity (the woman has gone so far as to dress Jose, the kidnap victim, in Joseph's clothes). But even after she sees televised interviews with the missing boy's sluttish unmarried mother (Mathilde Seigner), Betty makes no move to return him to his home. Against her will, she has forged a bond with the child. And, as we soon find out, Betty will go to extraordinary lengths to make sure that bond is not broken.

There are numerous obstacles in her path, not the least of which is the bizarre behavior of her loose-cannon mother. There is also the greedy, non-maternal maneuvering of Jose's mother and her band of loser-boyfriends, one of whom may be Jose's father. Most threatening of all, there is the sudden resurfacing of Betty's ex-husband (Stephane Freiss), an unscrupulous wannabe writer who doesn't buy the story of Joseph's falling from a window to his death. He's convinced that Jose, who is so at home in Betty's house, is really Joseph, the son he's never met. And, yes, he would like a slice of the profits from Betty's reality-based novel, the one in which she fried him to a crisp.

Does all this turbulence end in violence, bloodshed and spiritual renewal? Of course it does--this is a French film in the classic passionate tradition. Director Claude Miller has performed a splendid balancing act, teasing and entertaining us with his tall, emotionally resonant tale. And it seems fitting that Kiberlain, Garcia and Seigner shared the Best Actress Award at the Montreal World Film Festival. They are a splendid trio, and "Alias Betty" is a genuine beauty.