The Final Feature from Claude Chabrol: Inspector Bellamy

Inspector Bellamy (IFC)

The final film by Claude Chabrol, the savvy nouvelle vague director who earned himself the sobriquet “the Gallic Hitchcock” for the psychologically compelling, emotionally jagged mysteries and thrillers that highlight his long (and sometimes rocky) career, may not be one of his great works, but there are major pleasure to be had in the minor production from an old master.

Gerard Depardieu is Inspector Bellamy

Hard to believe that in a career of some eighty features, shorts pieces and television films, this is the first time Chabrol worked with Gerard Depardieu, who stars as the titular Bellamy, a veteran police detective and minor celebrity thanks to his memoir. He’s ostensibly on vacation with his wife Francoise (Marie Bunel), but as she observes, “Vacation is not in his vocabulary.” He adores her and she understands him and merely makes wry remarks as he drifts into a curious mystery involving an overtly enigmatic man (Jacques Gamblin) in hiding and the wreckage (physical and emotional) of what appears to be a botched attempt at faking his death. As Bellamy drifts through the orbit of a missing embezzler, pulling at strands that the local police seem unable to grab to understand the real story behind a seemingly simple case of homicide, his ne’er-do-well brother Jacques (Clovis Cornillac) blows into town with a new investment scheme and the same old shenanigans and jealousies that start them going around and around like scrapping boys.

The original screenplay by Chabrol and frequent collaborator Odile Barski undercuts the usual expectations of a murder mystery: the confessions come early and the physical pieces are quickly puzzled out by Bellamy, who doesn’t even bother to share his discoveries with the (unseen) local cops that he takes every opportunity to ridicule. And when a sudden surrender to the police solves the case officially, Bellamy keeps quietly tinkering with the gears of justice, driven by a puckish sense of mischief as much as by his eccentric integrity. Depardieu has ballooned into a hulking bear of an actor but even with all that girth he brings an easy grace to Bellamy, a man who embraces the simple pleasure in life, be it food, cigars, wine (which he had given up until the arrival of Jacques, which becomes an invitation to indulge once more despite the disapproval of Francoise) or the crossword puzzles that he uses to occupy his wandering mind. In a sense, this mystery is simply a much more engaging challenge.

Directed with a breezy ease that takes as much pleasure in its digressions as it does in its mystery, Inspector Bellamy is  a character piece with delicious undercurrents of emotion and impulse that defies logic and defines character in ways so perfectly… human. Depardieu’s Bellamy takes the investigation at a stroll, as if dropping by to question a witness is simply another errand on a to-do list, and only gets riled up when his brother gets up to his old tricks (which includes pocketing Bellamy’s gun and blithely robbing his host after shoehorning an invitation to a dinner party). It’s far easier for Bellamy to find his way to forgiving a murderer than to support his screw-up of a little brother, but then the former is simply a puzzle he’s sorted out to his satisfaction. Sorting through the issues of strangers is second nature to this professional meddler. Sorting through the tangled emotional detritus of his own life is far less comfortable.

The disc features a nearly hour-long making-of documentary which is, like the film, in French with English subtitles. The film was available via OnDemand in 2010 and the DVD may have same cablecast master, which is a little coarse with digital grain, mostly evident in haze of darker scenes.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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