Appellate Judge James A. Stewart's reviews might be light reading, but choose oak for your computer table.
"Why are you bothering? I thought we were on vacation."
When French thriller director Claude Chabrol died in 2010, he left one last movie: Inspector Bellamy. Like Family Plot, Alfred Hitchcock's goodbye, it's a light movie that won't hit anyone over the head. Even so, Bellamy makes a happy ending for Chabrol's thriller career, although the movie itself doesn't end on such a happy note.
I'm not giving away any direct spoilers, but if you're already planning to rent or buy Bellamy, going in cold could only help. Do come back and read the review later, though.
Facts of the Case
A car has gone over the cliff at Sete cemetery, leaving a headless, charred corpse which police don't think belongs to Emile Leullet. That means the insurance company isn't paying on the claim. Inspector Bellamy (Gerard Depardieu, Paris Je T'Aime) knows that Leullet's alive: the hiding suspect has come forward to the famous detective to tell his side of the story.
While Bellamy tries to figure out whether Leullet's telling the truth, he's dealing with a visit from his half-brother Jacques (Clovis Cornillac, The Unbearable Lightness of Being), an ex-con who steals money from Bellamy's friends at a dinner party and dreams of a big score, as characters like that often do.
If you don't have high expectations for Inspector Bellamy, Claude Chabrol himself might be credited for that. He dedicates the movie to "memory of the two Georges"—George Simenon, whose Inspector Maigret provided the genesis for the mild detective parody, and George Brassens, a famous French singer buried at Sete. Chabrol quickly establishes Bellamy's humdrum life of doing puzzles in front of the TV and the occasional dinner party. He sends Bellamy to the big home improvement store—no, France isn't so old-world anymore—for wood to fix some bookshelves, where he chooses pine over the sturdier oak, explaining: "It's for whodunits. Light reading." Throughout the movie, Bellamy is spending just as much time on his life as his case, although he's definitely more concerned about the latter.
While you're watching Inspector Bellamy for the first time, you'll definitely be thinking it's a light last effort from Chabrol, as was Hitchcock's Family Plot. By the ambiguous and sad ending, however, you'll realize that it's a bit more—and it's a bit more about Bellamy's relationship with Jacques (Chabrol ended with a family plot, too) than about the insurance case. Moments like Jacques' rant about going to prison without any help from his famous brother will hit you at the end, even if they didn't quite sink in earlier. Gerard Depardieu's Bellamy turns out to be a detective who's intrigued by the puzzles his cases present, trying to impose order on confusing reality, but can't quite deal with everyday reality.
Depardieu's detective is the main presence in every scene, but I'll note good performances by Jacques Gamblin (The Color of Lies) as the nervous suspect and Clovis Cornillac as the brother who just looks like trouble. They make an impression despite the fact that Bellamy is the only fully fleshed-out character, which is even more notable.
Chabrol makes the mystery in his movie something mystical with a simple trick. An early flashback, which shows Leullet practicing for a dance competition with his mistress, is staged with a grandness that makes it unreal through lighting, sets, and music. Thus, every flashback afterward takes on the same quality in your mind, even though the rest are done in a more realistic style.
The film looks beautiful, from the blink-and-you-won't-be-sure dead body at the film's outset to the final scenes. The music from Chabrol's son Matthieu is right on the money and comes across well on this DVD.
The making-of feature, Depardieu: Le monstre de jeu, follows Gerard Depardieu around the set of Inspector Bellamy, but it's mostly about the actor rather than the film itself. Director Chabrol is seen talking about Depardieu's cash flow problems as well as his acting. There's also a trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Inspector Bellamy is more than a thriller, which could be less for some viewers. If you're just looking for some light viewing in whodunit form, it could be underwhelming. Also, you've got to pay a little attention to figure out what's really going on.
Inspector Bellamy is a nice little movie with something happening beneath the surface. It's full of small touches that add up to something big at the end. Claude Chabrol certainly left the world on a graceful note.
I stumbled on Claude Chabrol's films while doing DVD reviews for Verdict, and they quickly became something I look forward to. While the director may be gone, he left a lot of movies—fifty, according to the trailer. I look forward to discovering them whenever I get a chance, and I hope other viewers will do the same.
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