Nimes Streets

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Claude Chabrol’s rather breezy final feature, BELLAMY, opens with an offscreen character whistling in a cemetery, which seems wondrously apt for the perennially jovial fat old “French Hitchcock.” Then we see a burned out car and, sitting nearby, a charred corpse still clutching a steering wheel, its head snapped off and lying by its side.

Gerard Depardieu, even more rotund than his director, plays the title character, a detective on holiday in the provincial town of Nimes, who just can’t help taking on a case (and can’t help swigging wine even though he’s supposed to have quit, though he doesn’t approach the real Depardieu’s reported daily intake of eighteen bottles or whatever was claimed).

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The movie is so relaxed its plot barely happens, and nothing seems to get resolved except in the messy, arbitrary ways real life sometimes provides. Is the man Bellamy helps a murderer or just an insurance hoaxer who had bad luck? Is Mrs B having an affair with his much younger brother? Those requiring clear answers are referred to a helpful quote from W.H. Auden at the end, about nothing ever being wholly revealed. A good note for a maker of mysteries to go out on.

The characters are mostly very agreeable, apart from Depardieu’s troubled sibling, which gives the film a semblance of all those cosy British detective shows where everybody’s so nice. The Bellamys dine with their gay dentist and his partner, the witnesses and suspects are charming or pretty, the insufferable Lestrade character is never actually onscreen. Best acting opportunity goes to Jacques Bamblin who plays the suspect, before and after transformative plastic surgery, and the lookalike he’s supposed to have murdered. Singer/actress Adrienne Pauly is a photogenic miracle, the angle of her lips forming a series of impossible shapes you’d expect to see on a very chic pen-and-ink drawing rather than a flesh-and-blood human. It’s nice to think of Chabrol spending his final hours as a filmmaker with such an attractive subject.

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Depardieu can’t be said to appeal in the same way, but despite his giantism, his huge, tuberous nose, and the sense that he might at any moment burst like one of those raindrops in extreme-slow-motion nature films, he remains compellingly watchable. Everything is small-scale except his actual person. His jealousy is almost invisible. You can just barely hear it simmer.

This is also a family affair, with at least three younger Chabrols credited, as editor, continuity and playing a small role. The movie is nothing major, but it’s a gentle, generous and quietly confident coda.

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6 Responses to “Nimes Streets”

  1. Nice that Chabrol got to work with Depardieu before the final curtain. A very composed little film (temperamentally as well as esthetically) in stark contrast to his last masterpiece A Girl Cut in Two — Chabrol’s roiling remake of The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing

  2. It’s a case where I don’t mind the last film being a minor one. Probably most Chabrols are minor… but they add up to something.

  3. True. I fancy several of the more “Commercial” Chabrols, like Le Tigre se Parfume a la Dynamite, Maria-Chantal vs. Le Dr. Kha, Dr. Popaul and Follies Bourgeois

  4. […] I peruse a late John Bunny and the last Claude Chabrol. […]

  5. La Rupture was the revelation for me, but I love potboilers like Ten Days Wonder too. And Landru!

  6. The homage to Murnau’s Sunrise in La Rupture is really beautiful.

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