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Claude Chabrol (24 June 1930 - 12 September 2010) was one of the French
mainstream New Wave film directors, celebrated for his suspense
thrillers. BELLAMY is his last film and as such will probably remain
one of his more fascinating. he was able to take what appeared on the
surface to be rather mundane characters and story threads and twist
them and turn them into fascinating tales. This trait is very evident
in the mesmerizing, seemingly off the cuff film BELLAMY which holds our
attention in a friendly conversational kind of way and then turns the
tables at the end, leaving the viewer with the question 'why didn't I
see that coming?'
Famous Parisian Inspector Paul Bellamy (Gérard Depardieu) and his wife Françoise (Marie Bunel) are enjoying their vacation in Françoise's childhood home in Nîmes, France when they notice a stalker. The stalker calls Bellamy to meet him: Noël Gentil (Jacques Gambin) confesses a murder he has committed and for some reason captures the attention of Bellamy. The 'murder' is an insurance scheme in which Noël staged his own death using a proxy in order to get his wife's life insurance money allowing him to run away with his girlfriend Nadia Sancho (Vahina Giocante). 'Noël Gentil' is actually Emile Leullet married to Madame Leullet (Adrienne Pauly) but after the staged car-over-the-cliff accident, a car supposedly containing a street person Denis Leprince - also played by Gambin, the scam is squelched by the insurance company's investigation. Bellamy covers every lead into this strange situation and it ends with a surprise death that alters the entire scam.
Meanwhile Bellamy's restless and resentful brother Jacques (Clovis Cornillac), an ex-con who still manages to steal from friends and puts the blame on his brother, visits Bellamy and his wife, and causes disruptions in their personal life as well as bringing Bellamy to a point of facing secrets about his childhood he has hidden from the world, secrets about his brother that are resolved in a very bizarre manner. All of these facts are ingredients for a thriller of a movie, but Chabrol's technique is to treat the harsh realities of the story as mere chatty conversations. All is not as it seems and behind every thread of this episodically related story are other stories that need the viewer's concentration to resolve.
The cast is strong and the jewel of the film is the performance by Marie Bunel as the loving, affectionate, older wife. She glows. It is sad that Claude Chabrol is gone, but his fine movies are a legacy that makes him immortal.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
How do you face the loss of a loved one bent on self-destruction?
That's the real theme of this movie, mistakenly packaged as a crime
In the midst of his idyllic summer vacation, Inspector Bellamy and his adoring wife are joined by his dissipated, no-good, yet charismatic brother (a haunting performance from my favorite French actor, Clovis Cornillac). Meanwhile, the inspector is drawn into a case that ultimately holds up a mirror to his own dilemma: how do you deal with the self-destruction of someone you love?
If you've ever faced this in your own life--the descent of a relative or lover drawn into drugs, crime, or madness--you know the feelings of helplessness, guilt and grief that can linger for a lifetime. In the midst and aftermath of the crisis, how do you cope? Do you fall into the fallacy of imagining that you change another human being? Do you turn your back on them? Or...do you construct a comforting fantasy that will give you peace of mind?
The latter is the choice of just about everyone in the "murder mystery" part of this movie. Never mind the wanted man put on trial; the story is really about the homeless vagabond who died in his place, and the woman who loved him, the clerk named Claire Bonheur who works at the home improvement store. She and the homeless man were lovers for five years. Bonheur is still so torn up about his descent that she can't even bear to let Bellamy look at her photo album. Now the man is dead, perhaps murdered by a con man who took advantage of him. But when Bellamy (conned by the con) puts the idea in her head that her homeless ex-lover may have died by choice, Bonheur seizes on it, and even finds a lawyer to put forth the argument. This is her way of bearing the unbearable: she chooses to believe that her ex-lover died because he wanted to. It's a fantasy; he was murdered. But this is how she copes. (Bonheur = happiness, and she will believe whatever is necessary to escape her sadness.) Only when the trial is over, and Bellamy sees all the parties on TV--the smiling Bonheur and the ambitious young lawyer, the con and his accomplice who've gotten away with murder--does Bellamy realize the awful, awful truth.
All this is only a mirror held up to Bellamy's own personal dilemma, the situation with his wastrel brother. Bellamy loves him, but cannot abide his self-destructive behavior. This has been going on a long time; we learn that Bellamy tried to throttle his brother when they were children, and for that act he has ever after felt guilty. He wants to save his brother; as Bellamy says of himself, "a good cop is a good Samaritan." (Good Samaritan = good friend = bel ami = Bellamy.) But ultimately, you cannot save those bent on destroying themselves, no matter how much you love them. How to bear this painful truth? At the end of the movie, Bellamy's dilemma is just beginning.
Another work that deals with this theme (going along with a con because believing a lie is more bearable than the truth) is a great story by Ruth Rendell, "The Strawberry Tree," which was also filmed for TV as part of the series "Ruth Rendell Mysteries." Chabrol adapted at least one Rendell novel, and I wonder if he was not influenced by her in this movie.
This is a very subtle film that wormed its way into my dreams. Farewell, Chabrol!
I suppose when I rate this movie more highly than many other people
it's because I haven't had enough exposure to Claude Chabrol. For me
this falls under the category "French movie," not "Chabrol movie." So
those who are less discriminating may like the movie as much as my wife
and I did.
European movies are better than American to the extent that they show ordinary people's lives lived at any ordinary pace. They're worse when they indulge in incomprehensible or surrealistic profundities. "Bellamy" teeters on the edge of the latter now and then, but gives us many pleasures of the first kind. It's a murder mystery, sort of, but more of the "what happened?" than the "who did it?" variety. In addition, it's a view into the life of Inspector Bellamy and the people in his life. His relationship with his wife is simple but enviable (perhaps improbably so). Marie Bunel is perfect as the wife.
The film does have some irritating attempts at profundity, but they are not too distracting. It's more distracting wondering how Gerard Depardieu, the Inspector, can have a brother played by an actor 20 years younger that he supposedly grew up with.
Chabrol is 78, and this is his 57th film. He's in fine form here,
though this hasn't quite got the delirious malice or the cloying
bourgeois atmosphere of his most potent works. The closing dedication
is to "the two Georges." They are Georges Brassens, the French
singer-songwriter, and Georges Simenon, the prolific Belgian-born maker
of novels hard and soft and the creator of the inimitable Commissioner
Maigret. This is the first time Chabrol and Gérard Depardieu have
worked together. For the occasion, Chabrol has conceived a lead
character who's half Maigret, half Depardieu. And he has based his
crime plot on a news item. The ingredients blend well and the result is
guaranteed to entertain.
There is an actual Maigret novel in which the Paris detective goes on vacation with his wife, but then becomes involved in a case. ('Les Vacances de Maigret'--and it was made into a film!) It's a foregone conclusion that Maigret, and Chabrol's Commissioner Paul Bellamyworki (Depardieu) is no different, is happiest when he's solving a murder mystery. Bellamy spends every summer with his wife Françoise (Marie Bunel) in the region of Nimes, in the south of France, where she maintains a cozy bourgeois family house. She would prefer they join a cruise on the Nile, where Bellamy would be less able to get his nose into French crime, but here they are. And as the film begins and Maigret, I mean Bellamy, is doing a crossword and Françoise is planning dinner and shopping, a suspicious-looking lean sort of fellow called Noël Gentil (Jacques Gamblin) is hovering around in the garden just outside the picture window, and finally gets up his courage and raps on the front door. Bellamy has written a well known memoir and like Maigret is so famous people seek him out.
Mme. Bellamy turns the man away, but there's a phone call, and Bellamy goes to a motel room, and he finds this chap interesting because people interest him. Gentil turns out to have several aliases, and even faces, because he's sought the help of a plastic surgeon. He shows the photo of a man who looks rather like himself and says he "sort of killed him." He declares himself to be in a terrible mess. There are several women, a wife (Marie Matheron) and a beautiful young woman who has a beauty shop (Vahina Giocante) in the town. And, as in the Simenon novel, there is a local police inspector, a certain Leblanc, whom Bellamy doesn't respect, and assiduously avoids, and Chabrol never shows us on screen.
M. Gentil turns out to be a suspect involved in a double life and a devious crime. But he is seeking the Commissioner's help--on a private basis. It has to do with an insurance scam that went awry.
Chabrol is also involved in a double process, because the film takes a complicated family turn with the arrival of Bellamy's ne'er-do-well half-brother Jacques Lebas (Clovis Cornillac), who gambles, drinks too much, and has a habit of going off with things that don't belong to him. Cornillac wears this character's skin so comfortably he never seems to be acting, and with a part like this, that's a neat trick, and he makes Jacques somehow elegant as well.
Part of the charm of this easy-to-watch if unchallenging film is the warm relationship between Françoise and Bellamy, which is romantic and affectionate and physical and cozy all at once. Bunel and Depardieu (who is very large now, a benignly beached whale in a good suit) play very well together. There is a dinner with a gay dentist (Yves Verhoeven) and his partner, which Jacques horns in on; this isn't terribly interesting. Nor is the case extremely resonant. The most memorable moments are those between Bellamy and his wife and his love-hate squabbling with the unpredictable half-brother, which are enhanced by the bright colors and warmth of the southern French setting. There is a young lawyer who shines in court, and lines from a Georges Brassens song are used in a surprising way. Fans of Chabrol and of Depardieu (and the two Georges!) won't want to miss this.
Bellamy opened in Paris February 25, 2009 to decent reviews. Given its north American premiere at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center in March 2009, this seems sure to get a US distributor, but none has been announced yet.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was never a champion of Chabrol, but I am amazed at what he left as
his last film.
The film is superficially framed as a detective story but as it progresses it slowly turns inside out as it becomes a discovery about the nature of the detective. This is done so surreptitiously that you hardly notice until toward the end you will ask in amazement what just happened?
You will be disturbed because not much seems to change and the mystery seems solved early in the film. There are numerous situations where we expect emotional explosions from the detective but the film skitters out from under them.
Some of this is vague enough to be a dream and such has a very clear marker midway when our detective wakes from a dream and non-dream dialogue follows seamlessly.
The story we are supposed to think the main story involves the discovery of a burnt body. It is not who it seems to be. The killer who confesses to Bellamy early on is not who he seems to be.
A quirky, fun shopgirl plays an unexpected role that leaves our detective thinking at the end that he (and us) have been fooled. We will never know how that con worked.
The mirrored story involves the detective and his dark step-brother. The two are a stark contrast, and emotions are wound tight throughout. As we move through this with other magical tones that get added by his watching, it becomes less important whether the brother actually exists.
The brother dies at the end like the mystery man of the beginning. And there are other similarities. The whole thing flattens into his own complex set of brilliant strategies to hide and eventually kill half of himself.
This dynamic is played not between him and his mystery, nor him and his brother, but between him and his wife. He is now old and obese and prepared to focus all his amorous attentions on his patient wife. She guides his life in subtle ways, using this power. The effect within the film is that we enter expecting to have Bellamy's eyes be ours and for those eyes to bring narrative coherence.
Instead, we end up knowing nothing. No mystery is solved, at least those we expect. Instead. We are moved off our path in a ways that we cannot quite see, but that creates incredible tension. It is as if Chabrol decide that on his way out, he would show that he is such a master of narrative suspense, that he could create it by removing narrative elements instead of adding them.
I am reminded of a game. The participant is to enter a room of known people and continuously direct the conversation without being detected and by saying the absolute minimum.
The script plays some games with names. It it the only misstep, being childishly obvious.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
I have not been exposed to a.lot of Claude Chabrol films, but the ones
I have seen are very good. He was considered a master of mystery, and
this is the last film he did before his death in 2010.
It stars Gérard Depardieu, and I have more than a few of his performances (La Vie en Rose, Paris, Je T'Aime, Mesrine: Killer Instinct). What I really like about Depardieu's role in the film is that he, and the film, are what I would call normal. We see life as it really exists, without gimmicks and special effects. It's a plain whodunit, with a plain detective. Marie Bunel, as his wife, adds immensely to this picture of normalcy.
The crime is only incidental in the film. It is really about relationships - The inspector (Depardieu) and his wife, the inspector and his bum of a brother, two mistresses who are not the mistresses of the people who think they are - forget the crime and focus on the people.
Bellamy is another curious non-event from Claude Chabrol, taking
colourful elements and turning them into something mundane and petit
bourgeois in a plot that ambles along like someone doing his chores
with his mind on something else. Yet curiously enough, while it lacks
narrative drive, threat or much in the way of involvement, it's rather
watchable in a very cosy Sunday teatime TV way. It's hard not to
imagine this turning up on TV with David Suchet in the intermittently
Botoxed Gerard Depardieu's role as the distracted Maigret-like
detective who interrupts his holiday to uncover the truth behind a
fatal insurance swindle after the guilty party (Jacques Gamblin in a
double/triple role) gets in touch, but it's hard to understand just why
he becomes so fascinated with the man and the case that he doesn't turn
him in. As usual, Chabrol provides no real answers, with even its hero
unsure if he's found the truth or been taken for a ride. Instead, this
being Chabrol, information is exchanged in polite conversations in
social situations or over dinner parties as gossip, with crime and
death almost a distraction for the chattering classes.
What little edge there is is provided by Depardieu's most recent Asterix co-star Clovis Cornillac as his resentful half-brother, the black sheep of the family with a tendency to steal from friends and blame all his misfortunes on his brother getting all the luck. While it's obvious where this relationship is headed, it does at least bring into some relief the film's take on the role of luck in crime and everyday life, be it a grandparent walking into the wrong room at the right time or a spouse noticing a potentially deadly pitfall the other overlooks. Even the crime itself turns out to probably not to have been a crime after all because the chosen victim luckily had ideas of his own Unfortunately, despite ending with a quote from W.H. Auden about there always being another story under the one that's visible, there's not a great deal more than the film offers on the surface. It's restrained almost to the point of tedium at times without ever quite tipping over, and what little suspense and interest the film generates is more a mild curiosity as to where the film is going and if it'll ever get there than the mystery itself, or even Bellamy's dark childhood secret when it is finally revealed. Ultimately it's all rather ordinary, as most crimes are, yet there's still something almost reassuring about seeing something so ordinary and unhurried made for the big screen rather than the small. Its rewards are frankly few (though Marie Bunel's performance as Depardieu's wife is one of them) and it will strain the patience of many, but if you can take the pace it's not an unpleasant way to spend an hour and three quarters.
This is by far the worst Chabrol film I've watched; he is normally I
director I admire but this film is dull, vapid, poorly edited and
showcases all the worst stereotypes about French cinema. The characters
are completely lacking in depth (and contrived oh-so-shocking
revelations don't change this) and universally uninteresting; Depardieu
in particular is very good at acting pedantic, but manages to convey
precious little else. Actually, none of the characters are likable and
most are unsympathetic without being interesting.
The central plot is about a crime that gets rapidly duller as the film progresses; from the start it's not particularly fascinating (because none of the characters involved is sympathetic or interesting in his own right, it fails to answer 'why should I care?'), but the central crime story becomes increasingly prosaic and occasionally ludicrous.
This film has far too many subplots, none of which are even remotely interesting and they drag on and on ('brevity is the soul of wit' applies here) and are only marginally relevant to the central plot. You keep hoping one of them develops into something interesting, but it never happens. It has the feel that Chabrol filmed lots of subplot footage in case it was useful and in the end just decided to shove it all into the final product.
Unless this film is somehow meant as a parody of the most pretentious French cinema or some other sort of in-joke, it is an astonishing failure by an otherwise very good director.
I only found later that the movie was greatly inspired in Simenon's
detective. Indeed the simplicity, unclear methods and distracted
although focused attitudes corresponds to Maigret in great detail. The
main difference is Depardieu's tender relationship with his wife,
completely absent in the novel. Another difference, Bellamy's brother
is maybe a weak point.
Major criticism refers to the lack of deepness of the characters and the plain performance of Depardieu. It did not affect me at all. The movie is light, intriguing and pictures nicely some aspects of French lifestyle. It was a pleasure to see Nimes and a joyful Maigret on the screen.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Bellamy (or Inspector Bellamy) is the final film in the career that
spreads over half a century of director Claude Chabrol, a career
started within the cinematic revolution of the French Nouvelle Vague at
the end of the 50s in which Chabrol was one of the most influential
names. Many of Chabrol's first films were set in the society of the
young students or lower class people in the France of the end of the
50s and of the 60s, in time he had broadened his breadth and dealt with
a wider social range. This last film of his is set in the bourgeois
society of the French province and while from a thematic point of view
we find the combination of detective story combined with the
psychological analysis which eventually discovers the real being of the
characters under their apparent skins, from a stylistic point of view
it's a very settled, almost static work.
Much of the film relies on the presence of Gerard Depardieu for whom the role of the police inspector who cannot escape undertaking an investigation in private cop mode while on vacation seems to have been written for. Strange as it may seem Chabrol and Depardieu work together in Bellamy for the first time. I can however imagine that the director let the actor all the freedom to build his character, a combination of Poirot and Maigret at huge physical proportions, with a tenderness for the loving wife acted by Marie Bunel in a manner that makes us fall in love with her and become jealous on Bellamy/Depardieu by the end of the film, and a complicated relationship with his step brother (solid acting by Clovis Cornillac). I mentioned Maigret, and maybe I should also remind here another famous detective, Columbo, as their wives represent a mythical but background, in many cases unseen, presence in the respective films and books. In Bellamy, the inspector's wife is a real presence, and the family story will play an important role and give to the action and story a dimension that competes and even exceeds the detective story itself.
I have watched many times the French critics becoming more enthusiastic about American movies than their American counterparts (and audiences in many cases mirroring these feelings). Something similar seems to have happened with this film as well, as the critical reception in the US by critics as important as the late Roger Ebert, or the New York Time critic were very welcoming, while the French critics I read reproached the lack of suspense of the story and the theatrical approach. I would say that both - appreciative reviews and critics were right. Bellamy does look at many moments as TV theater with stiffness in dialogs and static camera work especially in the scenes filmed in the interior. There is however enough fine acting to support the gradual discovery of the characters and the situations to keep the interest awake, even beyond the fascination of watching another work on screen of Depardieu. Claude Chabrol's last film is a low tone Adieu, by a master who never stopped being fascinated by the endless games of disclosure and hiding of his characters.
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