17 October 2009

LoFiFest Part I

Leicester Square, like Oxford Street and parts of Covent Garden, is one of those places I used to love ten years ago but now avoid like the plague. Unfortunately, the London Film Festival is far too big for it to be held entirely in the lovely BFI on the South Bank and as I'm attending five events at the Festival, avoiding Leicester Square seemed unlikely. Of course, because I was running late this afternoon, the Tube decided to break and by the time I finally reached Leicester Square station, I had to push past approximately 500 slow and/or lost people and then sprint up the escalator to get out.

I was going to watch Bellamy, a French crime drama (not exactly a thriller), which was being held at the Vue cinema--luckily right next to the Tube station. It felt quite exciting to be able to skip right past the hoards of people queueing outside the cinema and upstairs to the screen. I was five minutes late and didn't really know what the process was for these LoFiFest events--were late folks even admitted to the screens? Would I miss an introduction by the director or cast if I was late? Would I even be able to get to my seat bearing in mind that the only one left when I was booking was right in the back corner?

Actually, as this was from the Film on the Square category rather than a Gala, there were no actors or directors or red carpets--just a load of journalists and Francophiles, on this occasion. The film before had run late, which meant that by the time I arrived, people were only just starting to shuffle in. "They're much more efficient at the BFI," complained the middle-aged woman sitting next to me, before proceeding to chomp noisily on her popcorn throughout. I was inclined to agree, though, and the screens are better designed so that you get a good view even if you're sitting at the back. Never mind; I could see the subtitles if I needed them and that was the main thing, though I've no idea why so many members of the audience couldn't seem to keep from talking and making very loud bodily noises (must be the journos).

Bellamy is Claude Chabrol's latest film but his first in which Le Depardieu has starred. Depardieu is Paul, a Parisian police inspector taking the summer off at his wife's family house in Nimes. He has also just written a best-selling memoir and is something of a celebrity. He can't help but sniff out trouble and mysteries, though, even when on holiday and at the beginning of the film, he finds a suspicious-looking if well-dressed man lurking in the garden. When said suit eventually plucks up the courage to talk to Paul, he admits that he may have contributed to a man's death but that it's not that simple--of course it isn't; he's in a Chabrol film.

It transpires that the suited type, an insurance broker, was having an affair with some hot local beautician he met at a dance class (of course he was; he was in a Chabrol film) and wanted to skip the country with her so concocted some hair-brained plan to raise the cash for them to do this. Bellamy starts sticking his nose in--doing a better job than the local police chief, it seems--and eventually helps the suit to get a lawyer (who does a remarkable job in court, singing a Georges Brassens song to prove a point, prompting one of the policemen to ask whether they were at a trial or an edition of Pop Idol). It's a lot more complicated than this, with lots of apparently minor characters ending up playing a bigger role than you would imagine--nothing is as it seems.

Meanwhile, Paul's younger, black sheep, half-brother shows up and moves in to the house with Paul and his wife, Françoise, drinking, gambling and "accidentally" stealing 2000 Euros from Françoise's gay dentist and his plastic surgeon lover. The relationship between Paul and his brother is terse and it's only towards the end that we learn more about their history.

Happiness seems to pop up throughout the film--at least, the idea of it. Paul's crossword requires the answers bonheur and felicité, a girl he meets at the local DIY store, Bricomarché, is called Claire Bonheur, and Françoise and his brother often talk about how lucky he is (il a de la chance)--he's lucky he has such a great wife, he's lucky Françoise was standing next to him when he almost fell down a manhole, he's lucky he has a real passion for his work. Yet, he doesn't give the impression of a being very lucky or happy. The film also contrasts the use of chance with that of luck. It was his brother's permanent bad luck that led him to lose a whole load of money gambling but it was by chance that Paul happened to bump into Claire at the DIY shop when she turned out to be more involved in the whole affair than he could have imagined.

His investigations into the suited type and his women lead him to become suspicious of Françoise (to be fair, she didn't help herself; when the suit disappears, Paul thinks he should check whether he's with his wife but Françoise tells him he's definitely with the lover and then refuses to answer when Paul asks her how she knows this) and even to think she's having an affair with his brother (this is somewhat ambiguous). And although the ending might be considered "happy" in some ways, other parts are a lot darker and a lot more upsetting (although I did like the use of Elgar's Cello Concerto in E Minor at the end).

I think I need more time to digest this before I can decide how much I like it. I was a bit confused at the end and this may have been intentional on Chabrol's part or it could be that I was dozing for about five minutes in the middle (I don't think the scene was crucial but who's to say?). Still, Depardieu and Marie Bunel, who played Françoise, were both excellent and the plot, convoluted as it was, was engaging.

Oh, and because LoFiFest is sponsored by the Times, naturally, you couldn't leave the cinema without having a copy of today's Times thrust upon you, presumably so they can add these copies to their circulation figures.

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