La Mort de Belle, a brilliant Simenon resurfaces in Lyon

WE WERE THERE – Festival-goers in the capital of Gaul warmly welcomed the restored version of this forgotten classic, directed by Édouard Molinaro (The bully, Hibernatus…) whose screenplay is signed by Jean Anouilh.

Decidedly, Simenon seems to be making a strong comeback in cinema. While waiting for the new adaptation on the big screen of Patrice Leconte Maigret and the young dead with Gérard Depardieu in the title role (release scheduled for 2022), Simenon’s works continue to be rediscovered, like recently the three Maigret films with Jean Gabin, released in restored Blu-ray DVD version, published by Coin de Mire .

It is the same kind of pleasure that awaited the Lyon public (who came en masse) during the screening of Beauty’s Death, wonderful adaptation of an eponymous novel by Georges Simenon by the young Edouard Molinaro (The bully, Hibernatus, The Cage aux folles…), projected in a restored version. As some viewers whispered at the end of the film, “It’s the kind of cinematic shock you don’t expect.”

With a rare evocative power and a surprising modernity, filmed in 1961, with Jean Desailly and Alexandra Stewart, this disturbing detective plot develops the oh so Hitchcockian theme of the false culprit.

Having benefited from an impeccable refurbishment by Studio Canal, here is a film that comes out brand new. The story? It features a harmless forty-something, Stéphane Blanchon (Jean Desailly, tender and ambiguous as it should be). This discreet professor in Switzerland is suspected of the murder of Belle (Alexandra Stewart), a young American student who was staying with him and his wife, in his villa near Geneva.

Jean Desailly was alone with Belle (Alexandra Stewart) the night she was strangled. Could he be the culprit? © Studio Canal 2021

Desailly was alone with Belle the night she was strangled. Even his wife is troubled by the evidence that seems to overwhelm her. Public opinion is not favorable to him. On the garage door an anonymous hand wrote the word “Assassin”.

Originally located in the United States but transposed to Switzerland, Simenon’s work is adapted with the greatest fidelity. The atmosphere of the novel is admirably restored: it is not so much a question of a police investigation or suspense as of a psychological, even sociological study. Suspected on all sides, the character of Stéphane Blanchon plunges into himself, examines his conscience and has to face his secrets, his repressed desires. Incarnated by Jean Dessailly, the actor delivers an interpretation full of nuances, complex and moving.

Alexandra Stewart plays Belle in Édouard Molinaro’s film. © Studio Canal 2021

As the film critic Jean de Baroncelli said: “ Georges Simenon’s work has already inspired some sixty films. Maigret’s father has just declared that among all these adaptations, he considered Beauty’s Death as one of the most loyal and successful.»

We must also credit the success of the film, the scenario established by the playwright Jean Anouilh, who judiciously transposes this detective story, but all the same changes the end to better surprise the viewer.

Paradoxically, many fans of Simenon find it entirely in keeping with the spirit of Simenon, proof that the author ofAntigone was not mistaken in betraying the creator of Maigret. After all, to adapt is to betray …

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