Film Review: Bellamy

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Berlin International Film Festival -- Berlinale Special
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BERLIN -- "Bellamy" is a surprisingly flat-footed film from the master of French cinema, Claude Chabrol. A detective story of sorts, the film is a virtual talkathon that never catches fire as actors, two to a scene but sometimes three, run streams of dialogue past one another. Indeed, "Bellamy" might have played more successfully onstage than as a film.

Master though he may be, the importation of this Chabrol film into North America in any major way is no foregone conclusion. A distributor would have to take it on as a labor of love. Even in Europe, the film seems destined for a brief release and then on to the small screen. The film opens this month in France.

A character mentions Agatha Christie at one point. While not constructed along the lines of her quaint whodunits, "Bellamy" is a small chamber piece -- written by Chabrol with Odile Barski -- in which detective work feels more like a hobby to pass the time agreeably by its main character.

This detective is played by Gerard Depardieu, now aging and overweight but nimble as ever as an actor. His Paris police commissioner Paul Bellamy has achieved fame as a solver of mysteries and the author of a book about his career.

He takes his annual holiday in the south, in a house in Nimes belonging to the family of his attractive and loving wife Francoise (Marie Bunel). Frankly, he'd prefer to be back at work.

Work manages to find him, in a manner of speaking. A man seen skulking about in the garden finally makes a long-winded introduction. Noel Gentil (Jacques Gamblin) -- how's that for a name -- contacts the great detective with a problem: He thinks he killed a man.

Interviews with Noel, his wife (Marie Matherson) and mistress (Vahina Glocante) -- he is in hiding from both women -- uncover an apparent insurance scam in which Noel fakes his death by placing a street bum in his car and sending it over a cliff, leaving the man burned beyond recognition.

Noel has had plastic surgery so the story sounds about right but it's never clear where the truth lies. Bellamy's own snooping around is more to keep his mind occupied than any passionate search for truth.

A second story line has Bellamy's half-brother, Jacques (Clovis Cornillac), turn up to the pleasure of neither spouse. A ne'er-do-well and a drunk, Jacques blames his brother for most of his problems. So the two tediously go round and round about ancient family history to the impatience of any audience.

Fact is, both story lines are tedious. One cares no more about whether Noel Gentil -- can't be his real name -- killed anyone than why Jacques is such a miserable wastrel.

Chabrol says the film serves dual purposes: to work with Depardieu, which he never has, and to pay homage to Georges Simenon, the prolific Belgian novelist who created one of literature's most memorable detectives in Commissioner Maigret.

Maigret inspired Chabrol's creation of Bellamy, a proud but essentially happy man who loves drinking, his wife and crime solving, not necessarily in that order. As a collaboration between Chabrol and Depardieu, Bellamy is the film's one successful element, a figure worthy of scrutiny but one, alas, given only dreary chores to perform while on holiday.

Production: Aliceleo Cinema
Cast: Gerard Depardieu, Clovis Cornillac, Jacques Gamblin, Marie Bunel, Vahina Giocante
Director: Claude Chabrol
Screenwriters: Odile Barski, Claude Chabrol
Producer: Patrick Godeau
Director of photography: Eduardo Serra
Production designer: Francoise Benoit-Fresco
Music: Matthieu Chabrol
Costume designer: Mic Cheminal
Editor: Monique Fardoulis
Sales: TF1 International

No rating, 110 minutes