Published: February 16, 2011
IFC Home Entertainment
When Claude Chabrol passed away Sept. 12, 2010, he left behind one of the most prolific resumes of the French New Wave. He’s practically made a film every year since debuting with 1958’s Le Beau Serge, and they’ve been mature and competent right out of the gate. His last effort, 2009’s Inspector Bellamy, won’t be mistaken for his last stab at greatness—that would be 2007’s A Girl Cut in Two—but it does offer the rare chance to watch two consummate craftsmen team up in the autumn of their careers.
Gérard Depardieu stars as the curious, modestly famous Paris detective Inspector Bellamy, a character obviously modeled after Belgian crime great Georges Simenon’s creation Inspector Maigret. It’s summer, and as they do every year, Bellamy and his wife Françoise (Marie Bunel) have repaired to her family home in Nîmes in Southern France, a place where, ideally, Bellamy’s mercurial mind can’t go chasing after criminal curiosities. Thanks to a memoir and his name recognition, though, such a curiosity finds him in the form of Noël Gentil (a sleekly forlorn Jacques Gamblin), a sad man who confesses a murder to Bellamy that the local inspector—in whom the stout, intuitive Bellamy has little confidence—is supposed to be investigating. Also throwing a wrench into the summer holiday is the arrival of Bellamy’s young half-brother Jacques (Clovis Cornillac), a drifting possible scam-artist who drinks too much, talks too much, and knows just how to needle his brother out of his usual courtly affability.
What Chabrol and his co-writer Odile Barski (who also penned André Téchiné’s The Girl on the Train) concoct here is less a crime thriller than a wry character study of two older, married men: the slippery Gentil and the seemingly steadfast Bellamy. Both have their weaknesses and earthy affections, both have women in their lives with whom they’re hopelessly smitten, and both sometimes find themselves creating thorny situations for themselves. Its a sneaky narrative that makes for a patient, meticulous drama, as it’s not the sort of movie that’s well represented by its poster of Depardieu walking down the street holding a gun.
In fact, its pleasures are best to be found in its beyond subtle whimsy. It’s dedicated to “the two Georges”—writer Simenon and singer/songwriter Georges Brassens—and the movie is dotted with the former’s humanistic details and the latter’s indelible melodies, albeit modestly shaded by Chabrol’s incisive ironies: The movie opens with an off-screen character whistling one of Brassens’ jaunty melodies in a cemetery, as the camera tracks along a row of memorials before finally drifting over the edge of a nearby cliff to the burned-out corpse near the charred remains of a car below. Patiently witty, Inspector Bellamy is an acquired taste even for Francophiles, but its modest rewards deliver a refreshing sang-froid.
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