Inspector Bellamy (2009) / Mystery-Drama
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably R for language and some sexuality
Running time: 110 min.
Cast: Gerard Depardieu, Marie Bunel, Clovis Cornillac, Jacques Gamblin, Marie Matheron, Adrienne Pauly, Yves Verhoeven
Director: Claude Chabrol
Screenplay: Odile Barski, Claude Chabrol
Inspector Bellamy starts with a scene of a crashed vehicle and a severely burnt, decapitated human body. Gerard Depardieu (Paris I Love You, Last Holiday) stars as Paul Bellamy, a famous police inspector from Paris taking a reluctant vacation in the town of Nimes in southern France, along with his adoring wife Francoise (Bunel, The Chorus). But his R&R is repeatedly intruded upon by a tenacious stranger named Emile Leullet (Gamblin, The First Day of the Rest of Your Life) -- living in disguise -- who continuously comes to visit him, finally wearing the inspector down to lure him to look into the details of what turns out to be an insurance man's attempt faking his own death. The details of the case had already been investigated and concluded as a murder, though Leullet maintains it is not how things happened, so Bellamy is out to undo the case, which he does by interviewing such people as the purported deceased's wife, lover, and the ex-girlfriend of the missing homeless man whose body is the one reported to be at the site. While this is going on, Paul's alcoholic, thieving brother, Jacques (Cormillac, Sky Fighters), pays an early visit and causes him some undue, but typical, tension that has him worried about his property being stolen, his wife seduced, and his vacation ruined.
An 80-year-old Claude Chabrol's (La Ceremonie, Le Boucher) final film, as he would die within a year of the film's initial release. For a final film, it won't be ranked among the French New Wave pioneer's best, as it is a mostly talky, lackadaisical script with a directorial style that treats major revelations and mundane conversations as if they should be framed with the same sense of breeziness. Fittingly, for a man often dubbed as "The French Hitchcock" for his following closely in style and subject, he followed the British Master by creating a weak final film, coincidentally a family mystery (Hitch's was Family Plot). But this is far from Hitchcockian compared to Chabrol's other films, as it is more of an ode to the two Georges, prolific Belgian writer Georges Simonen, who wrote about 75 mystery novels featuring the fabled Commissioner Jules Maigret, and Georges Brassens, France's iconic singer/songwriter who lived as a near homeless recluse in southern France. The more familiar you are with these two figures, the more you'll likely identify with Chabrol's story, as he infuses his characters with traits of the Georges, as if to muse on what it would have been like for the two figures to live together in their middle age, with the subject matter of their respective art forms coming to life around them.
But that's also the problem with Inspector Bellamy, which tosses in too many narrative directions for one story to bear, while also not exploring any one of these directions with sufficient enough attention to keep the viewer interested. Instead, it languishes as a character study of a man trying, in the latter part of his career, to finally enjoy the life he's helped to build. His wife has been trying desperately to get him to stop being a workaholic, alcoholic, jealous husband, but Paul succumbs to his impulses, both professional and personal, time and again. Chabrol might identify with this, but fails to keep his audience on board for his personal explorations.
Depardieu is as charismatic as you'd expect (though his epicurean lifestyle seems to finally have caught up with him), as he works with Chabrol for the first time. But he's comfortable enough to watch as his character goes through the motions of his life and the career he can't seem to put behind him. Like Inspector Bellamy and his inability to retire, Chabrol could not stop making films to the very end, though both seem more preoccupied with small personal details than the big picture anymore. Both take their time to smell the roses along the path, to the point where those side activities done along the way prove to be as important, if not more so, than arriving at the destination one planned on. One suspects that Bellamy's love of solving crimes getting the best of him while on vacation in Nimes mirrors Chabrol's own desire to vacation there in the sunset of his life, interrupted by his own love of films. Like watching someone else's vacation photos, there are moments of occasional interest to those who did not partake, but none of it really has as much meaning to the viewer than it does the person behind the camera.
©2011 Vince Leo