Welcome to un film de Claude Chabrol, the French New Wave director who famously idolized Alfred Hitchcock. You can see that influence even in this picture, his final bow before passing away last year.
It is this case of the automobile "accident" that Inspector Bellamy of Paris (Gérard Depardieu) informally investigates, despite being on vacation with his wife, Françoise (Marie Bunel), for a month in her childhood home. That residence is stalked by a man named Gentil (Jacques Gamblin) who wants to speak with Bellamy.
When Bellamy finally relents, Gentil confesses that the man dead is supposed to be himself, so to speak. In love with his mistress, Gentil sought to run away under a new identity, and the burnt corpse is a hobo who looked enough like him to fool both the authorities and the insurance company, so Gentil's wife would receive a payout. But you know what they say about best laid plans, and Gentil insists that while he intended to murder the bum, his death was actually a suicide.
As Bellamy pokes his nose around town to prove or disprove Gentil's story, he's heavily distracted by the arrival of his no-good half-brother, Jacques (Clovis Cornillac), a heavy-drinking ex-con who grates on every end of Marie's nerves. His introduction provides more conflict for the film than the main mystery, but one wonders if Jacques is such a louse and a leech, why the hell did they invite him to stay during their vacation? At one point, Marie tells them both in a huff, "Your bickering gives me a chill."
Chabrol approaches this thriller quite leisurely, whipping up no sense of doom or suspense; this, however, may be the point, as if he, too, is on holiday, more interested in the overall experience than the day-to-day details. Viewed in this aspect, "Inspector Bellamy" works. I was drawn into the story, and soon found myself caring less about any investigation and more into just watching Bellamy do his thing, whether that be grilling persons of interest; buying wood to build bookshelves; or molesting Marie with his big, beefy mitts, which he does thrice.
The downside to that is the film builds to nothing but a silly courtroom sequence and a final scene viewers can predict by the halfway mark. That third-act fizzle may leave a slight bitter aftertaste. All in all, the film is still worth watching, particularly for those of us who dream of vacationing in France, yet can't afford it. French culture seeps heavily throughout its two hours; name one other movie this year in which an on-air newscaster follows up a crime report with "And now the latest bullfight news ..."
Two observations about French, the language:
IFC Films' DVD comes only with original French audio, which is fine, but the English subtitles don't come on automatically, which is not. Furthermore, every time I had to pause the disc, doing so turned the subtitles off. That's a mild inconvenience.
Unlike, say, German, the French language is lovely to listen to, no matter what's been spoken. Even lines like the one where Jacques asks Bellamy if he's ever been anally raped sound utterly beautiful. Rod Lott