Maigret Gérard Dépardieu Patrick Leconte

Gérard Dépardieu becomes famous French detective Maigret in Patrice Leconte’s new film

An interview with the director about working with Dépardieu in the latest big-screen adaptation of a Maigret story.

At the mid-point of his career, when he was already well past his era appearing on screen as a working-class lover, Jean Gabin took up the mantle of famous fictional detective Jules Maigret, from a long series of novels and short stories written by Georges Simenon. Decades later (after with a brief sojourn by Rowan Atkinson for the BBC), Maigret is back, this time with the larger-than-life Gérard Dépardieu stepping into the role. In town to present Maigret at Fantasia, director Patrice Leconte notes the similarities between the two actors: “They have a shared earthiness.” 

Growing up, Leconte read many Maigret adventures and was a massive fan of Simoneau. Even though he’s adapted Simoneau in the past with Monsieur Hire, he never imagined that Maigret would be a part of his destiny. “It all came together as an opportunity to work with Dépardieu.” Dépardieu has already worked in so many adaptations of great literature that it seemed like a natural fit for Leconte. “I was blown away by his talent. You know he has a bit of a reputation for being wild, but we worked well together.”

Both men connected over the character, an unusual detective. “The character has a modesty compared with other detectives like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, who think highly of themselves,” says Leconte. Unlike other detectives, he’s a character who recognizes his mistakes. “He’s willing to admit when he’s wrong. It makes him more human.” In the film, Maigret investigates a macabre case in which a young girl is found dead in a Parisian square. Dépardieu, not unlike Gabin, strikes an imposing figure, but he also brings a tenderness to the screen. 

While the movie is a period piece, a kind of theatrical chamber drama, Maigret’s humility holds up a mirror to contemporary life. In a world that is often reactionary and filled with unfounded assumptions, Maigret is not only unafraid to admit when he’s wrong but also works from a place of ignorance. He wants to learn from and observe his environment. Nothing is set in stone, and nothing is certain. He’s a great detective because he remains open-minded. 

Aesthetically, this is reflected in the film’s almost constantly moving camera. “I don’t care if people don’t like it,” says Leconte. He explains it’s like being at a restaurant distracted by something over at the next table. It’s not that the camera’s gaze is necessarily motivated; it’s just curious about the world around it. “Maigret is like that, and so is Depardieu. They observe everything. They can’t say still.” Leconte adds, “Maybe it’s also a reaction, maybe even a manifesto, against films with fixed camera setups.”

With 75 novels about Maigret, could this be the start of a series? Leconte is adamant that it’s not. “I’d work with Dépardieu again, but I have no interest in doing more (Maigret).” Even the film’s title is a line in the sand: it’s not a specific Maigret adventure but rather his interpretation of Maigret, point finale. 

Leconte has been making movies since the early 1970s, including films like The Hairdresser’s Husband (1990) and The Girl on the Bridge (1999). He’s also worked as a comic book artist and a screenwriter for other filmmakers. His energy and curiosity reflects a person who wants to explore and discover. “They say, great artists, painters or sculptors, draw from the same source to a certain extent,” he says. “I’m not saying I’m a great artist, but I always want to do something new.” ■

This interview was translated from French.

Maigret, directed by Patrice Leconte

Maigret opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, July 29.

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