Thursday, February 17, 2011

Inspector Bellamy

Chabrol (left) on the set with Depardieu
Nick and Nora (William Powell and Myrna Loy)
Chabrol still showing his natural grace with Clovis Cornillac

INSPECTOR BELLAMY                                           B
France  (110 mi)  2009  d:  Claude Chabrol

In this his final film, as the director recently passed away at the age of 80, Chabrol finally teams up with French legend Gérard Depardieu who plays a charmingly personable Police Inspector, the kind of guy who would just as soon hear your life story than the specific facts at hand, which more likely bore him, as he’s spent a career investigating police work and it’s other things now that interest him in this latter stage of his life.  Depardieu as Inspector Bellamy is something of a settled, but never quite comfortable middle-aged man in a bourgeois marriage with his still sexy wife Françoise (Marie Bunel), who always appears calmer and a step ahead of her husband.  But he’s the one on duty, though you’d never know it, as each of his calls are a “personal visit” instead of an official police questioning, where it feels more like Bellamy is simply trying to get a grasp on the lay of the land, offering bits of kindness where he can.  Interesting from the opening shot, a real puzzler as the camera curiously pans out of a cemetery out onto a stretch of beach where a demolished burnt-out car lies at the bottom of a cliff, with a charred body and a severed head sitting upright laying right next to it.  Need one say more?  What’s more interesting is that the Inspector and his wife are on holiday in the south of France at their country home in Nîmes, but like indigestion, the man won’t let it rest, and his curiosity gets the better of him.  This husband and wife team is so conventionally close that they’re a toss between the straight-laced yet comical McMillan & Wife (1971–1977) and the suave sophistication of THE THIN MAN (1934).  

And did I mention that Depardieu is gi-normous, a man who looks like a beached whale when he sits upon the edge of the bed with his wife in little skimpy outfits?  It had to have been an in joke on the set, as the man gives Brando a run for his money as the world’s most bloated up human being, but his acting is impeccable.  In no way does his size interfere except as an occasional aside joke.  Instead, Bellamy visits all the known suspects, never once raising his hand or fist as a threat, or a gun, or a warrant.  Instead, he relies on the pleasantries of old-fashioned conversation.  This non-threatening manner in investigating a hideous crime also describes the pacing of the film, where age really does enter into it, as this film has no target audience in mind, but ambles along in its own manner, veering here and there, occasionally seeming off course, but all in good time seems to be the director’s aim.  This healthy dose of maturity adds to the charm of the picture, as it uses old-fashioned methods to lure the audience into a somewhat unconventional crime, insurance fraud that resurrects the use of a dead body double to steer interested parties away from the real mastermind who’s behind this swindle, where we can imagine this exact same scenario in the 1940’s and Bellamy would be a hard drinking, skirt chasing, and decidedly younger version of  himself. 

Here, despite his size, he’s still a skirt chaser, and, blasphemous in France, he’s given up drinking altogether, that is, until his wayward and long lost brother Jacques (Clovis Cornillac) arrives on the scene, a gambler, a thief, but mostly a drunkard flirting with his wife every chance he gets while drinking every last bottle on the premises, a hard-drinking ex-con who is belittled and constantly criticized by his bullying elder brother throughout the rest of the picture.  The only time they have a moment’s peace is when they have a little drink together and share a few laughs, as otherwise they’re at each other’s throats.  Bellamy never cuts him a break, which makes Jacques all the more devious, a complete fuck up and damaged soul who seems incapable of doing anything right.  In his own way, he’s the perfect side attraction to Bellamy’s continuing conversation with the girl friend of the dead body double (Adrienne Pauly), the friend of a homeless man who ends up dead, while the real mystery man, cleverly maneuvering his way through three roles, one following the alterations of plastic surgery, is Jacques Gamblin, a man who rarely sees his dutiful wife anymore (Marie Matheron), as he wants to abscond with his mistress (Vahina Giocante) and the money.  Bellamy, however, unscrambles the clues, which, you’d never know as he’s too busy fuming about his own brother’s various indiscretions, railing against the incompetence of the local police detective (who’s never seen onscreen), while amiably following the drifting thoughts of the town.  There’s an uncommon ease about this picture which makes it easy to like, and a final shot that exquisitely offers a poetic transcendence for the director himself, a renowned gourmet and self mocking bon vivant who loved life, and unlike many of the other more tortured New Wavers, wasn’t afraid to show us a good time.     

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