Thursday, October 28, 2010

Chabrol's INSPECTOR BELLAMY arrives, tardily and sadly, as a final goodbye

When Claude Chabrol died last month, you may have heard the sound, even felt the sense of a huge wave finally ebbing at last.  (Funny that Mr. Eastwood has graced us with his own big wave so soon Hereafter.) Unless I'm forgetting someone,  La Nouvelle Vague has but three filmmakers remaining alive: Agnes Varda, Jacques Rivette and Jean-Luc Godard.

I wish that INSPECTOR BELLAMY (first seen in New York almost two years ago as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Rendez-vous with French Cinema) were one of this master's better works, since it will be the final one we'll see. (Chabrol, shown at right, made a French TV series this past year, but it is unlikely that America will be graced with that.) Though nowhere near his best, the film is still good enough to please his fans and is worth seeing, especially for its cast and their performances. Of the French New Wave directors, no one has achieved the output -- in terms of total running time -- as  Chabrol. At 80 years old, he had made 72 films (mostly theatrical, some for TV). While Godard, who's the same age, is on record for 93 outings, many of these are not full-length. Eric Rohmer, who also died this past year, had made 51, while Rivette, who's 81, has made only 32 (but his are often long). Each of the men and Varda who make (and made) up the group of directors often associated with the New Wave are/were so spectacularly different in their style and interests, that it's no wonder, taken together, they were able to point movies in a new direction.

Of them all, Chabrol seemed to be the one who had changed the least over the years. He had his interests and his style (some might suggest a lack of it) yet he continued on his path, making films that were sometimes more, sometimes less, successful with audiences and critics but that adhere to the theme of unmasking the hypocrisy residing in his characters, who often come from the haute bourgeoisie. The films usually took the shape of a mystery.

Concerning Inspector Bellamy, made because Chabrol and actor Gerard Depardieu (above, right) had wanted to work together, many of the director's favorite concerns are in place. Depardieu plays a famous inspector vacationing with his wife, played by Marie Bunuel (above left), when he comes upon a mystery involving an insurance scam, adultery, death and disguise.

As usual with Chabrol, the "mystery" seems to interest him the least -- exploring it, resolving it -- so that our attention is held more by the characters than by what they are doing, which, in any case, often borders on the ridiculous. It almost appears that no real investigation of the "crime" is being done by authorities in the city in which it took place (except by the Depardieu character, who's on a busman's holiday). Chabrol gets around this by offering excessive exposition and making repeated references to the incompetence of the local inspector-in-charge. This does not result in particularly good movie-making, though the acting by all concerned is first-rate.

Fortunately, the film has two stories going on at once, one mirroring the other in terms of emotional landscape. Depardieu's inspector has a no-account brother (Clovis Cornillac, shown above) who comes for a visit, wreaking his own havoc on the people around him, just as the "criminal," played by the ever sleek and sophisticated Jacques Gamblin, above, with toothbrush) is doing to those around him. This provides the emotional core of the movie and accounts for its working as well as it does. What looks initially like a old-fashioned nod to the portly, clever detective (Depardieu is carrying a lot of weight these days) is, in fact, a messy upheaval of raw, often repressed and mostly unresolved jealousy and anger within people who have barely begun to explore themselves, even as they are creating problems -- and worse -- for those around them.

Via IFC Films, Inspector Bellamy opens this Friday, October 29, at IFC Center.  Surprisingly enough, I notice no IFC On-Demand showings for this one. Maybe later...

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