Claude Chabrol Goes Out on Top

10/27/2010 4:00 AM |

Inspector Bellamy

Directed by Claude Chabrol

When you’ve been directing movies for half a century, often at a clip of two per year, there are going to be some clunkers. But Claude Chabrol, the New Wave past master who died last month at 80, had long ago weathered the inevitable mid-career slump. Since 1995’sLa cérémonie—a droll prole revenge fantasy and an unanticipated return to form—Chabrol was on a tear, and with Inspector Bellamy, his final film, he went out on top.

Ostensibly a procedural about a Parisian detective who, while vacationing in Nimes, gets drawn into an unexplained murder, Bellamy (the original French title) is a quirky, uniquely Chabrolian black comedy. The director intended the movie as an homage to novelist Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret series, but also as a tribute to the on-screen persona of his lead actor, Gerard Depardieu, with whom he had never before worked.

As the famous flic whose best-selling memoirs everyone seems to have read and memorized, the hulking Depardieu is bumbling and absent-minded most of the time (in one scene, he nearly falls into a manhole), though he can turn shrewd and brutish on a dime. While investigating a case that’s not even his just for kicks (and while repeatedly mocking the inept and off-screen local police chief), he must also grapple with an unwelcome visit from his sweaty, dipsomanical kid brother (Clovis Cornillac).

What really elevates Bellamy, however, is its unusually sexy portrayal of middle-aged marriage. Over and over again, we see Depardieu raise one of his lusty, meaty paws to make another grope at his younger but entirely age-appropriate wife (Marie Bunel) as if he were suddenly seeing her for the first time. It’s a nice metaphor for how Chabrol himself, to the end, approached the familiar task of filmmaking.

Opens October 29 at IFC Center