Legendary Parisian detective unravels details of brutal crime by Richard Jones

A look at Maigret (M)


Down the decades I’ve seen a number of movie actors play the role of the famous Paris detective, Commissaire Jules Maigret. Most recently Rowan Atkinson was Maigret in four TV epics, but I also recall Richard Harris and the great Charles Laughton stumbling around in the Parisian underworld.

Atkinson was retained for only four telemovies and he always looked slightly comical – not as much, of course, as when he was Mr. Bean – playing Maigret with a pipe clenched between his teeth.

This time it’s acclaimed French actor Gerard Depardieu in the Maigret role and although the character has given up smoking he’s still a big, bulky man. Apparently Depardieu lost quite a few kilograms to play Maigret in this one-off. He must have been gargantuan before the weight loss.

It’s 1953 in Paris and the body of a beautiful young woman is found in a park, dressed in an elegant evening gown. Although she seems to have died from a head wound the body also has several deep stab wounds. There’s nothing to identify her. No handbag, no purse, no keys. And even though there’s no witnesses Maigret tracks down a young man who lives across the road and he had heard some noises during the night and gives Maigret the times.

As more and more details come to light, including the salon where the evening gown was hired, Maigret connects the dead girl to a prominent actresss. Gradually the Commissaire pieces together details of the dead woman’s identity. She’s from rural France and drawn to Paris to find fame and fortune. Maigret comes upon two more young women who seem to fit the same social standing as the dead girl. Betty (Jade Labeste) looks a bit like the dead girl and still lives in similar desperate one-room conditions. In contrast another friend Jeanine (Melanie Bernier) has landed some bit parts in films and is engaged to be married to a rich fiance.

We see close-up the huge divide between social classes in Paris straight after World War 2, especially when we get to the big engagement party which virtually binds together all of Maigret’s theories.

And director Patrice Leconte has adopted a very dark tone to the film. Maigret is seated at his desk studying papers related to the crime with a five or six-watt lamp as his only illumination. Similarly, when he interviews girls who board at the same complex as the dead girl, it’s also grey and gloomy in their rooms.

There’s a bit more light at the flashback to the big showbiz party where we first meet the girl (Clare Antoons), Madame Clermont-Valois (Aurore Clement) whose son is celebrating his engagement, and the details about the death finally unravel.

As Maigret hears confessions and anecdotes the cameras sweep across the now deserted banquet tables: partially-eaten meals and half-empty wine glasses are all that’s left.

Just as a footnote: we won’t be seeing Maigret in any further Leconte films. The director has said quite definitely to French journalists he’ll only be doing the one Maigret and this is his sole offering.

Oh, and in light of the Ukraine invasion by Russian forces, Depardieu has formally renounced his friendship with Vladimir Putin.

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