The great Claude Chabrol’s last film (he died last September) has just about everything you could ask for in a mystery: charm, wit, suspense, a complex sibling rivalry between half-brothers, a man who commits murder and goes into hiding in an insurance scam – or was it ‘assisted suicide’? Inspector Bellamy (played by a very large and comfortably frumpy Gérard Depardieu) is on holiday with his wife (Francoise, played by Marie Bunel) in the country (Nîmes), when his alcoholic, troubled half-brother decides to drop in for a stay. Paul Bellamy has just purchased some wood shelving to repair some bookcases from the last time Jacques visited. So you know there’s trouble waiting to happen.
A man has been lurking outside their house for sometime. Intrigued, Bellamy decides to meet and hear his story. There is a wife whom he seems to not love anymore, a mistress who he calls his “princess” and a plot to change his life. Jacques Gamblin plays the conflicted con-man (Noël Gentil / Emile Leullet). The plot unfolds slowly as Bellamy teases the story from the man who now calls himself Gentil (his identity papers are obviously fake). As he digs deeper, Bellamy also relates what he has learned that day to his wife. Both as a way of mulling over what is truth and what is fiction, and as a way to engage his wife in his life – a woman whom he both adores and respects. She’s his sounding board, his reality check, his soul-mate. The two of them on-screen together is a treat. The result of the way Chabrol unfolds the story – which could have been convoluted and confusing in less adept hands – works to present a clear narrative. But never so clear as to uncover all mystery. The mystery, while the story comes to a resolution, remains when the film ends. Satisfyingly.
I’ve never been disappointed in a Chabrol movie that I can recall. As a movie viewer, you just can’t go wrong with his films.