'Bellamy'

A police inspector on a holiday can’t keep from investigating a possible murder in “Bellamy."

A portly police inspector on a holiday can’t keep from privately investigating a possible murder in the old-fashioned but thoroughly likable “Bellamy,” Claude Chabrol’s homage to Georges Simenon, which marks his first collaboration with Gallic acting colossus Gerard Depardieu. This upscale talkfest, which delights in its witty banter and sly references, could be helmer’s most commercial work in quite some time, especially if the pic is tightened by a good 10 minutes. Older Francophiles will be lining up around the block.

Paul Bellamy (Depardieu) is clearly modeled on Jules Maigret, the police investigator Simenon created in 1931 and the protag of more than 100 novels and stories. Fans of Maigret will recognize how Chabrol toys with established conventions; Bellamy smokes cigars instead of Maigret’s pipe, but his rock-solid relationship with his wife Francoise (Marie Bunel) is a reliable constant, as are his infallible instincts. The late French crooner Georges Brassens, the second Georges to which the pic is dedicated, is also niftily tied into the plot.

In Nimes, southern France, a report about an insurance scam piques Bellamy’s interest. Being a famous police inspector with a bestselling memoir to his name, Bellamy doesn’t even need to go out in search of a lead: Noel Gentil (Jacques Gamblin) has been trampling Bellamy’s flowerbeds for a couple days when the pic opens. He gives Bellamy a picture of a man who looks suspiciously like Gentil and confesses he “sort of killed him.”

Bellamy can’t help but investigate the case privately, and Chabrol makes a point of the incompetence of local police inspector Leblanc, who stays duly offscreen despite bedding one of the sexy suspects (Vahina Giocante).

The crime story, with its twists and turns, is neatly resolved but is only an excuse to delve into the world of Bellamy, a man who loves his wife unconditionally but who has a love-hate relationship with his drunkard brother (Clovis Cornillac), and who finds his work a lot more interesting than socializing with the town’s gay dentist (Yves Verhoeven, playing the film’s most cliche character) or going on a holiday somewhere far off. Indeed, it would not be much of a stretch to see in Bellamy some characteristics of the workaholic helmer himself.

Since Chabrol created the title role specifically for Depardieu, it fits the thesp like a glove, while Cornillac proves he can also hold his own opposite Depardieu in a less cartoonish register than in “Asterix at the Olympic Games.” Some of the film’s wittiest banter comes from their sibling rivalry.

Other thesps, including Gamblin in a triple role and an assortment of jolie provincial girls, are fine, but the film’s truly sensual presence is Bunel as Mrs. Bellamy. The way Chabrol paints the couple’s loving relationship reps one of pic’s nicest touches.

Production design and lensing are in keeping with the generally unpretentious atmosphere and the helmer’s previous work. At 110 minutes, the pic, driven by men sitting around talking and ladies being pretty, does somewhat overstay its welcome, and slight tightening would improve its commercial prospects abroad.

Bellamy

France

Production

A TF1 Distribution release of an Aliceleo Cinema presentation of an Aliceleo Cinema, France 2 Cinema, DD Prods. production. (International sales: TF1 Intl., Paris.) Produced by Patrick Godeau. Executive producer, Francoise Galfre. Directed by Claude Chabrol. Screenplay, Odile Barski, Chabrol.

Crew

Camera (color), Eduardo Serra; editor, Monique Fardoulis; music, Matthieu Chabrol; production designer, Francoise Benolt-Fresco; costume designer, Mic Cheminal; sound (Dolby SRD), Eric Devulder, assistant director, Cecile Maistre. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale Special), Feb. 7, 2009. Running time: 110 MIN

With

Gerard Depardieu, Clovis Cornillac, Jacques Gamblin, Marie Bunel, Vahina Giocante, Marie Matheron, Adrienne Pauly, Yves Verhoeven, Bruno Abraham-Kremer, Rodolphe Pauly.

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