Sunday, August 7, 2011

Inspector Bellamy (2009, Bellamy)

There’s a lot going on in Inspector Bellamy. What could have been a simple mystery instead layers multiple story threads, each working separately the way real life does, and in unison, creating a psychological portrait not just of its lead character but of the world he inhabits.

Inspector Bellamy is curious; about the machinations of life, the reasons why. He is on vacation with his beautiful, youthful wife Françoise, but cannot get away from what we assume is his passion: crime. A mysterious man shows up with a confession—he has killed someone. We know from the opening credits that a car has crashed off a cliff, killing—deforming—the driver. Television reports tell us the deceased man was not who everyone thought it would be. Instead of the insurance salesman who owned the car, the victim is an unknown, and the insurance salesman has attempted to defraud his company and is now in hiding. The man who visits Bellamy is in fact the missing man, at first under the thin alias of Noël Gentil but really Emile Leullet. Who is the dead man then, and why does Inspector Bellamy indulge Leullet in his late night confessions? Does he want to single-handedly solve a popular mystery for fame? For justice? His own curiosity? The answer comes after the climax which is less anti-climatic when viewing the film as a straight-forward mystery, but the reason for Bellamy’s indulgence allows us to understand his entire career as an inspector.

The story threads of Inspector Bellamy are slow in revealing themselves, but the film is more rewarding for it. In comes Bellamy’s brother, Jacques, handsome, young, a loser and a drunk. Bellamy and Jacques have a tense relationship, and Françoise is the mediator between them. But the more The Inspector discovers about the Leullet case the more he is convinced his life mirrors it, that his wife is having an affair.

I admit at first I was lost. That is to say so many small things were happening in short bursts that I did not know what the true story was. For example, characters are introduced who seemingly have no narrative purpose (they will not advance the mystery—this includes the brother character); there are too many convenient personal connections between unlikely characters, etc. It is lucky the film was directed by the seasoned professional Claude Chabrol and stars Gérard Depardieu. Depardieu especially leads an extraordinary cast through a series of twisting scenes with (at first) no purpose and succeeds in making them interesting, so even when I was lost I was not frustrated. Tensions are hinted at, maybe only suggested, by Chabrol, and little by little these present themselves as more menacing and complicated to the extreme.

Chabrol is known mostly as the French Master of Suspense, a moniker that does as much a disservice to him as it did to Hitchcock. Both filmmakers used a popular genre to convey personal interests and demons. Here Chabrol is concerned with being old and overweight, married to a beauty and feeling insecure. There is more, some of which I’m sure exist in my own reading of the film, but anything beyond a superficial telling of the plot is harmful. Things are more fun to discover on your own. But understand the thriller plot is merely the starting point for a personal film filled with character and insight and commentary. The final scene in court where Leullet’s lawyer defends him with a song is a kind of mocking sting at the absurdity of the judicial system which often feels as if it’s working for those who know how to circumvent it rather than for justice.

The film gives me renewed interest in Chabrol’s past films. I’ll admit to not being a fan. I’ve enjoyed his recent work and think Inspector Bellamy is his best effort since 2000, but his past masterpieces, laid during the infancy of the French New Wave, have always bored me. He seemed to me a pale imitator of Hitchcock’s, someone whose work felt more like cheap but brisk 70s American television. I noticed with Inspector Bellamy how this film, more than his other recent works, mirrors his earlier output, particularly Les biches. The machinations of the plot seem to service the dysfunction underneath, and with this renewed interest I may pick up again on Chabrol’s early career.

There isn’t much more for me to say. The film is entertaining and surprisingly subtle. I don’t want to talk about how the various subplots merge into the ultimate story being told, and beyond that the film can stand on its own. Being Chabrol’s final film and first collaboration with Depardieu, this is a film that doesn’t need my recommendation to endorse it.

Inspector Bellamy (2009)
(a.k.a. Bellamy)
Director: Claude Chabrol
Writers: Claude Chabrol and Odile Barski
Stars: Gerard Depardieu, Clovis Cornillac and Jacques Gamblin
In French
Runtime: 110 minutes

IMDB link:

1 comment:

  1. i think i need to give this another shot. i know it sounds blasphemous, but outside of la ceramonie (one of the greatest movies ever made), i've never been a big charbol fan. good review