Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chabrol’s Inspector Bellamy

Conceived as a tip of the cap to Belgian crime novelist Georges Simenon and his best known sleuth Jules Maigret, the rumpled Inspector Paul Bellamy is renowned for his intuitive insight into the criminal mind. That’s his job and he’s good at it. However, he is somewhat distracted by family issues of late, not that he is supposed to be working while on holiday. Yet, as often happens in the paperback mysteries he reads, a new case finds him anyway in Inspector Bellamy (trailer here), the fiftieth and final film of Nouvelle Vague suspense auteur Claude Chabrol, which opens this Friday in New York at the IFC Center.

Bellamy is whole-heartedly devoted to his wife Françoise, keenly aware he married quite a bit out of his league. His mind might be sharp, but Bellamy is doughy and pear-shaped, often reduced to audible wheezing by the stairs of her family’s vacation house in Nîmes. Openly contemptuous of the local inspector, Bellamy cannot resist getting involved in a sensational crime dominating the regional news, especially considering one of the principals has trampled his wife’s flower beds while loitering outside their cottage.

Seeking the detective’s help, Noël Gentil has a convoluted tale of murder, fraud, and adultery to tell, but Bellamy’s attentions are somewhat divided. His self-destructive half-brother Jacques Lebas has unexpectedly appeared, predictably antagonizing Bellamy and adding stress to his marriage. While the case of the mysterious Gentil (or whoever he is) largely plays out off-screen, Bellamy struggles with his domestic front—not his strong suit.

The supposedly retired Gérard Depardieu might be the Brett Favre of French cinema, but he is a perfect fit for Bellamy. He certainly looks like an out of shape middle-aged man, while also projecting a shrewd intelligence and a deep-seated insecurity. Indeed, jealousy and resentment arguably play a greater role in the film than old-fashioned greed, with Bellamy turning out to be one of the primary offenders, along with his prodigal half-brother. As the bitter Lebas, Clovis Cornillac holds his own quite well, convincingly suggesting the years of contentious history shared between them.

Chabrol, who only recently passed-away last month, was a master of the cerebral thriller. Especially in his later films, he often relegates the nefarious skullduggery to the deep background, only dropping hints amid the ostensibly benign action on-screen (his subtly sly The Flower of Evil is a near perfect example). While we do see Bellamy pursue his investigation, Chabrol once again engages in some artful sleight of hand. As usual, Chabrol’s longtime collaborators cinematographer Eduardo Serra and composer-son Matthieu Chabrol also give Bellamy a rich, classy luster befitting his final cinematic statement.

Productive to the end, Chabrol was a giant of cinema, who will be missed. Even his misfires like A Girl Cut in Two still make for interesting viewing. Though Bellamy is a small, intimate work compared to some of his signature suspensers, it certainly features a huge star in Depardieu. Watching their first and final collaboration is definitely worth the wait when Bellamy opens this Friday (10/29) at the IFC Center in New York.