After last year’s AFI Fest presented the horrible Une fille coupée en deux, I am pleasant to report that Claude Chabrol’s latest is slightly better. Prolific new wave veteran that he is, it comes as a bit of a surprise to realize that he’s never before worked with Gérard Depardieu, but here they are together at last, with Depardieu as the eponymous police inspector.
The film is adapted from a Simenon novel and concerns the sort of detective who can’t resist a case even when on vacation (in Nîmes). It’s a murder mystery, with the charred body of someone who is who he shouldn’t be, a possible murderer in hiding, a sexy mistress and a bitter widow. It’s all very bourgeois, of course, though Chabrol doesn’t dish out his usual skewering. Instead, he’s more interested in setting up a series of doublings and pairings, and in the fraught relationship between Bellamy and his half-brother (Clovis Cornillac with apparently only one expression, of disgust at himself and the world and, distractingly, the latest Astérix to Depardieu’s Obelix). But the best thing about the film is the easy, intimate depiction of Bellamy’s marriage. Marie Bunel is note-perfect as his wife, smart and sexy, and Bellamy cannot keep his hands off her as they discuss the case in bed or the bathroom (it’s a very French film in that way – Bellamy flirts with every pretty young thing he can and Vahina Giocante’s temptress is a two-dimensional pantiless fantasy).
Depardieu is alarmingly rotund these days and huffs and puffs his way upstairs but with little affectation elsewhere; if anything he underplays too much and comes off as the less charismatic of the pair, with a peek into his psyche being too little too late and his dissertations on shadowy capitalist control and economic class differences coming off as mere window dressing.
This being Chabrol it’s all mounted with great professionalism, taste and efficiency, but all the criss-crossing parallels of family and self-hatred are empty of significance. So too are Bellamy’s assertions that the world is a mess (it certainly isn’t for him). Jacques Gamblin is a fine nervy presence as the murderer-or-not, tho partly hampered by an obtrusively false nose and beard; Rodolphe Pauly (Les amours d’Astrée et Céladon) gives an amusing turn late on as a venturesome young lawyer, but the film as a whole is lifeless. Chabrol’s cinema used to be back-handedly branded as anti-bourgeois entertainment by and for the bourgeoisie, but in this case you can drop the “anti”.