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Readers Writing, or some brief notes on two films recently revisited

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky

Inspector Bellamy and Cold Weather have, frankly, a lot in common: a male detective with an interest in crime fiction (in Bellamy Georges Simenon and Agatha Christie take the places occupied by Arthur Conan Doyle and E.W. Hornung in Cold Weather) is assisted in an investigation by the woman he is closest to (Bellamy, his wife; Cold Weather, his sister); the first clues to the mystery are introduced in a motel room; an emphasis on dinner scenes and establishing the social life of the characters before establishing the crime; the integral role played by a frequent collaborator's score (Chabrol's son, Matthieu, in Bellamy; Keegan DeWitt in Cold Weather); adult siblings (Paul and Jacques, Doug and Gail) cohabitating, one noticeably more aimless than the other; overcast skies, the sea, and landscapes, namely the way landscapes appear from a moving car; the cars themselves, key participants in the action, indicators of character and instigators of both films' endings; the lack of any police in either film (sure, Bellamy is a police officer, but not in Nîmes; the local detective, Leblanc, remains unseen); and, of course, the conceit of an investigation which reveals more about the investigators than the investigated, who are largely genre types. But, even more importantly...

Inspector Bellamy closes with a quote from W.H. Auden's "At Last the Secret is Out:" "There is always another story, there is more than meets the eye." The first half of the line is more pertinent than the second—or, rather, it's more pertinent to our particular investigation. Daniel Kasman wrote here nearly two years ago, when Bellamy (then running under its original title, with no Inspector) played at the Film Society of Lincoln Center: "Bellamy's aura has less in common with the procedural detection of crime novels than it does with the cinema of Jacques Rivette and the desire to detect. Depardieu's famed inspector Bellamy takes up a case while on vacation with his wife, but takes it up like an armchair general would take up a distant, historical battle: no action, all speculation, all late evenings talking about a situation one mostly only imagines ... Bellamy continually surprises in its growing abstraction, its desire not only to fail to reveal the mystery by the end, but to only hint, and hint so softly, that all the mystery in the film hasn't even begun to be suggested. Under a guise of many things—genre, character, stardom—Chabrol is actually practicing an extreme form of experimentation, one in which everything on-screen points to something unspoken and unexplained not off-screen but out-of-the-movie." Those words, re-arranged and re-qualified (cut out the Rivette reference, for instance), could be applied to Cold Weather, a film with a lot of speculation and very little solution.

Though its true that the "detectives" of both Inspector Bellamy and Cold Weather are driven by curiosity and some lesser off-shoot of morality (basic decency in Doug's case, shame in Bellamy's), what's even more important is that they both undertake their investigations without duress. As obsessive fiction-readers, as people who write with their actions or whose actions have their roots in writing (Paul Bellamy has already written a memoir and Doug seems to be preparing for his; both base their methods on constructing a mental / fictional space within which the crime can exist), as untasked detectives who take up the unsolved crime as a hobby, our two investigators are essentially masters of their particular universes.

Under Cold Weather's grey skies exists a sinister universe (which Glenn Kenny has rightly identified as being downright Lynchian) of criminals in cowboy hats and mysterious activities in storage lockers—a universe of which Doug is more or less in control, because it only exists as far as he travels into it. Similarly, Paul Bellamy's interrogations of the characters of a faked-death case are leisure strolls; the case, for him, is just another crime novel to get lost in and evade the actual problems of his life: his brother, his hidden guilt, his family's history of alcoholism. Each film concerns two paths: the straight line of reality (largely unseen) and the parabolic curve of fiction, which intersects with reality at the introduction of the crime and at its solution. Both films, then, are about different aspects of the same idea: 1) the way daydreamers deferring drudgery recast their lives in the image of fiction in (which, incidentally, makes Bellamy andWeather good complements to Federico Veiroj's A Useful Life, a movie about a person reformulating his life in the image of images) and 2) how reality itself eventually synchronizes itself with the fictional (again: A Useful Life).


Aaron KatzClaude ChabrolFederico Veiroj
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