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Inspector Bellamy (DVD Review)

31 Jan, 2011 By: Mike Clark

Box Office $0.1 million,
$24.98 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Gerard Depardieu.

Many of the relationships in French director Claude Chabrol’s swan song turn out to be complex or at least more so than they might initially seem — even the easygoing one between its central husband and wife that is probably the movie’s greatest pleasure. Chabrol, who died last year at 80, always kept viewers off-balance with his character interplay. This is why the so-called “French Hitchcock” was usually synonymous with disorienting or even disturbing psychological studies — as opposed to plot-heavier narratives that punched their points home more directly in the Hitchcock style (and no complaint in either direction).

This is a very enjoyable movie with a fuzzy resolution — though one whose fuzziness isn’t off-putting but the kind that makes you want to take another look someday. Gerard Depardieu, whose history and now girth have contributed to a kind of Jean Gabin emeritus status, plays a celebrated sleuth who is such a portrait of middle-aged spread that probably even his dreams have rumples. Yet he has settled into a lovely-to-watch relationship with an extremely attractive mid-40s Mrs. (Marie Bunel) who would nonetheless like him to take a vacation once in a while. As a matter of fact, they are on a vacation (at her childhood home) as the movie begins, but he can’t stop himself from getting involved in a case that begins when a stranger shows up at the door and somewhat spooks his spouse. Oh, well; this is probably how he got to be a detective of such stature that he’s even published his memoirs.

The door-knocker has been involved in a murder/insurance fraud of roughly Double Indemnity elaborateness — one that so intrigues Depardieu’s Bellamy that he embarks on a series of interviews (but not interrogations, he notes) of affected parties including a borderline basket-case wife and a mistress who gives pedicures for a living. Into this atmosphere comes Bellamy’s visiting half-brother — the kind of boozy no-count who makes you have to “count the china” when he comes to call. If you take him along to visit a dinner host/friend (here, it’s one of the few screen portrayals I can recall of a gay dentist), it’s better than even money that you’ll get a call a couple hours later that something valuable is missing from a coat hanging in the front closet.

Through all this, Bunel’s “Francoise” character maintains a dream of a disposition. She seems pretty world-weary of her brother-in-law but thinks her husband is too rough on him (actually, the mostly even-tempered Bellamy harbors some brotherly demons from childhood). She’s just protective enough to make you wonder if there’s something going on between her and this walking headache, even though it wouldn’t be consistent with what we’ve seen (other than the fact that booze or not, the brother is better shape). But the one time Bellamy confronts her about this in an initially tense scene, the culmination is some frolicking spousal interplay — a charming throwaway bit but also the kind of character-revealer that doesn’t just get into a movie all by itself.

This isn’t one of Chabrol’s world-beaters, but it’s pretty darned good — definitely better than I expected given its solid but unexceptional reviews. It made me think of how much pleasure the director’s movies gave me over many decades, dating back to when the Museum of Modern Art did a Chabrol retrospective back in either 1970 or ’71. Merely reflecting on my personal favorites — Les Bonnes Femmes (1960); This Man Must Die (1969); Violette (1978); Story of Women (1988); La Ceremonie (1995) — I really have to think about how many filmmakers who began their careers 50 or so years ago have kept the streak of heavy hitters going for long as he did.

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