Saturday, March 13, 2010

French Film Festival 2010 - 9 (Bellamy)

Bellamy (Claude Chabrol, France, 2009)
Chabrol's reverence for Hitchcock is well-known and the influence is evident from the start of this film. Unlike a Hitchcock film, though, this is more about mystery than suspense, and it's more about the journey than the destination. The film's characters seem to inhabit a parallel universe, much like our own, but where they don't respond quite as you'd expect, confounding the audience but adding to and prolonging the mystery.

A man is dead under suspicious circumstances and the killer may or may not be known to a holidaying police inspector, Paul Bellamy (Gérard Depardieu, playing one of the best roles I've seen from him in recent years). The director strings us along, letting events unfold in no particular hurry. The very particular construction of the narrative sort of reminds me a little of the Alain Resnais films I've seen in that there's a very obvious artifice, an artifice that also bothered me a little in Chabrol's Nightcap/Merci pour le chocolat. I think I was wrong to expect realism in these films and my expectations blinded me to what is being conveyed.

I'm not claiming a mastery of understanding yet, but I sense that the Chabrol's intention is to play with the audience. The story is a puzzle, sign-posted at the outset with Bellamy attempting to complete a crossword puzzle. It also feels like a game of chess, with characters being moved across the board, circling and counter-circling, with various intrusions to our expectations. Our suspicions are sometimes aroused and we cannot always expect certain outcomes. Whatever the outcome - and I certainly wouldn't want to divulge it - there is a satisfying finale, if you're prepared for unconventionality. The performances in the film are all fine but it's the writing and direction that really shine. A warning, though - the film's ambiguity and unconventional story-telling won't be to everyone's liking. You must be able to suspend disbelief to appreciate the film.


David O'Connell said...

Paul, I've been a big Chabrol fan for many years with La Ceremonie being a personal favourite. Bemoaning the paucity of his films on DVD here I found I couldn't resist a couple of ridiculously cheap boxsets of his work recently over at Amazon UK, featuring mostly films I've never seen before. I'm really looking forward to working my way through them in the months to come.

Bellamy is another one I really wanted to see at the festival before my holiday intervened! It's remarkable to think that this is the first ever collaboration between Chabrol and Depardieu considering their status over so many years in French cinema.

Paul Martin said...

I've been slow in the uptake with Chabrol, David. I liked this more than any other Chabrol I've seen - it's not many, but La cérémonie is one of them. I didn't really appreciate that one at the time, which I think is because I didn't have a good sense of where he's coming from. I should get that boxset myself.

Bellamy is quite a delight, partly because I rarely like Depardieu in contemporary films. It just goes to show that given a good director, we can see his talent shine. I heard that the director and actor had wanted to work together for a long time and had a project up at one time, but it fell through.

Paul Martin said...

Those collections are amazing value (around £12 each). I've ordered both and if anyone's interested, check these links:
The Claude Chabrol Collection
The Claude Chabrol Collection - Vol. 2