He was a leading director of the French New Wave, but that doesn’t tell you much about the hugely prolific Claude Chabrol. He was frequently compared to Alfred Hitchcock but that tells you even less. I’m not even close to an expert on his work, but I can safely describe Chabrol as a crafty writer-director who specialized in films that shared plot elements with the mystery and suspense genres while deliberately not partaking of their usual pleasures. It’s fitting, therefore, that the late director’s final film has a murder mystery plot and pays tribute to Georges Simenon’s beloved Inspector Maigret but never feels like a murder mystery, which is both the best and worst thing about it.
In his first ever film with Chabrol, the omnipresent, 60-something Gerard Depardieu stars as Bellamy, a famed detective who attempts some time off only to be accosted by an intrusive stranger (Jacques Gamblin). The man asks for his help exonerating him from the killing of a homeless person. The problem: he admits that he really did intend to murder the vagrant as part of an insurance scam. Bellamy welcomes the distraction. He is much less sanguine about another interloper, his obnoxious and troubled younger half-brother (Clovis Cornillac) who intrudes upon his quality time with his beloved and sexy wife (Marie Bunel). Like I said earlier, don’t come to a Chabrol film expecting a conventional thriller. If a wry but serious look at life and death is up your alley, however, “Inspector Bellamy” is worth investigating.
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A shambling 1969 walkabout through the Venice and Hollywood sections of Los Angeles with music by proggy psychedelic band Spirit, “Model Shop” is not for everyone. Shot in gorgeous “Perfect Color” by the late Jacques Demy with dialogue by Carole Eastman (“Five Easy Pieces”), it’s a departure for the most traditional of French New Wave writer-directors who charmed the world with the great 1964 musical, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.”
If you’re not fascinated by L.A.’s history and culture, you could quickly lose patience with “Model Shop.” There’s little story and Demy’s cast is mainly comprised of amateurs and two young working actors who might as well be. Still, you may want to stick around. “Model Shop” stars Gary Lockwood (“2001: A Space Odyssey”) as an aimless young unemployed architect who may or may not be contemplating dodging both the Vietnam-era draft and his live-in girlfriend (Alexandra Hay). Eventually, however, he spots a bewitching, somewhat older, woman played by Anouk Aimée (“8 1/2,” “A Man and a Woman”), who turns out to be recreating her role from Demy’s 1961 breakthrough, “Lola.” When Lockwood finally meets up with her in a model shop – where men would once pay to take their own non-nude girlie shots (life before the Internet!) – and then in her apartment, the film’s dramatic side is salvaged thanks to a wonderfully simple and very moving performance by Aimée, who shyly and beautifully takes over the movie. Slowly, an artful mess becomes a moving romance.
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