The body of a young woman is found on Place Ventimille in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. She is dressed in an evening gown and there are no identifying documents on her. Inspector Maigret of the Paris Police and his team have the job of identifying her and tracking down her killer.
We viewers are a bit ahead of Maigret in that we’ve seen her being dressed in her rented finery in the hire place, and we see her attending a lavish engagement celebration full of rich folks from which she is angrily ordered out by the bride-to-be. She was obviously not an invited guest. What’s going on – a love triangle? A revenge appearance by a woman scorned? But she doesn’t seem the type: she is timid, unsophisticated, poor….
In many ways this is your basic police procedural, with the added appeal of Gerard Depardieu in the lead role and Paris as the setting. It’s not the gay Paree of popular imagination – the cafe-lined boulevards, the twirl of accordion music – but it is Paris after all and so there is beauty everywhere, even in the murky underbelly.
Police Commissaire (the equivalent of an English DCI) Jules Maigret is the creation of French writer Georges Simenon. Simenon wrote 75 books about his crime-solving, set over a time span from 1931 to 1972.
Maigret has been portrayed many times on screen, mostly in English language versions by English actors, curiously, although there was a long-running French TV series in the 70s. I remember as a kid watching the 1960s English language version with Rupert Davies. I would say it was very noirish, but that might just have been because in those days we didn’t have colour TV!
Charles Laughton did him before my time, and Michael Gambon did him in another English version in the 90s, which I missed for some reason. Then there was yet another English version in 2016-17, with Rowan Atkinson as Maigret. I tried to watch it, but just couldn’t see Atkinson as anything but a comic figure. I kept expecting that any minute he would start talking like Inspector Clouseau, with a ridiculously exaggerated French accent. I don’t wish to be unfair to Atkinson’s acting abilities, but he should be satisfied with being one of the world’s great comic actors. The series was cancelled after two seasons, but there will be a third, with an as-yet unnamed actor in the lead.
This 2022 French/Belgian production is a version of the Simenon book Maigret Et La Jeune Morte (Maigret and the Young Dead Girl), set in Paris in the 1950s, Maigret’s heyday. It’s directed by Patrice Leconte, very much admired and respected in his native France.
Depardieu’s Maigret is taciturn, world-weary and unshockable. Either that or he’s become adept at hiding his reactions to human cruelty and depravity. He’s married, and we do meet Madame Maigret – a supportive, uncomplaining woman who understands the horrors her husband confronts in his daily work, which is an interesting contrast to the resentful spouse/broken marriage/troubled child trope so prevalent in Anglophone cop dramas. Granted, it IS set in the fifties, but it’s to the filmmakers’ credit that they haven’t altered the relationship dynamics to match modern attitudes.
I liked this Maigret, but is Depardieu’s version the definitive one? I don’t know the character well enough to pronounce judgment on that, certainly not in the way I can confidently declare that a) Sean Connery is the best ever James Bond and b) David Suchet is the best Hercule Poirot. To these propositions there is of course no counter-argument.
Definitely worth the time and expense for lovers of cop shows and Paris.