The late French filmmaker Claude Chabrol, who died in September at 80 after a long career in movies and TV, will be remembered for his place within the 1950s French New Wave (“Le Beau Serge, “1958) and such later movies as “Story of Women” (1988) and a nearly definitive French-language version of “Madame Bovary” (1991). His final finished film, “Inspector Bellamy,” won’t figure in conversations considering his legacy.
But this quiet and cryptic mystery holds enough interest to stand as reasonably representative of Chabrol’s work, a dry and moody piece built on closely-observed characters, not on thrills or an unraveling plot.
Gerard Depardieu has the title role, playing a celebrated police detective on vacation in Sete in the South of France after publishing his memoirs. Inspector Bellamy is lured into meeting an insurance executive who has staged his death — a grisly, crispy auto accident whose aftermath we see in the opening scene.
This oddball calling himself Noel Gentil stalks Bellamy, urges a meeting and proceeds to confess to a murder.
“It’s bad to kill people,” Bellamy deadpans (in French, with English subtitles). “Why did you do it?”
It turns out, the guy’s not really Noel anybody. He’s changed his name and his appearance and is hiding out in a hotel, waiting for the moment when he can cash in his insurance policy, ditch his wife and flee with his bombshell dance class partner girlfriend. Bellamy ignores the protests of his own wife (Marie Bunel) and starts sniffing around the case, informally questioning those involved, bad-mouthing the local cops as he does. He gets a sense of Gentil’s lust upon meeting the girlfriend (Vahina Giocante). What he doesn’t develop is any sense of outrage or urgency.
There was a body in the car wreck. Whose is it, and was he murdered by this couple to pull off their scheme? Why are the people who admit to the plot still walking the streets?
Chabrol, who co-wrote the script, revels in that lack of urgency and meanders with his inspector as he meets and flirts with a sales clerk (Adrienne Pauly) who may have known the dead man as well as the runaway insurance exec’s long-suffering wife (Marie Matheron).
Chabrol then introduces the inspector’s wayward gambling drunk half-brother (Clovis Cornillac) and that summons up the cop’s guilt over their shared past and Bellamy’s suspicion about what this sibling wants from this latest visit. Is the lout interested in his wife? Cornillac’s abrasive performance makes this the most interesting corner of “Inspector Bellamy.”
The devil is in the details in this leisurely stroll through a mystery no one seems all that interested in solving. Chabrol shows us quiet conversations that never seem like interrogations and the burly Depardieu, as Bellamy, gamely frets over giving up wine and ponders the music of the late Sete singer/songwriter Georges Brassens, and how all that relates to the case.
Moments of humor sneak in as Bellamy visits the bombshell for a foot massage. But a singing opening argument in court is about as lively as “Inspector Bellamy” gets, and no, it isn’t Depardieu who does the singing. More’s the pity.
See for Yourself
Cast: Gerard Depardieu, Marie Bunel, Clovis Cornillac, Jacques Gamblin
Director: Claude Chabrol
Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Rating: unrated, adult situations.