Chabrol has long been known as the French Hitchcock and in this, his second, film that influence is clearly evident and yet even here at this early point in his career Chabrol has already absorbed the influence and evolved it into something that is distinctly his own. He's a Hitchcock all right, but one for a decade that no longer has a moral center.
I would not call Le Beau Serge or Les Cousins Chabrol masterpieces but they are very worthy early efforts. The strengths of these two films would be their stylish plots and complex characters, the weakness would be the overly-theatrical staginess of some of the dialogue and scenes.
The plot (I do not reveal any of the twists or turns):
Provincial Charles comes to Paris to live with his playboy cousin Paul and almost immediately writes a letter to his mother who we soon find out was reluctant to allow him to study in Paris and who he desperately fears disappointing. Both Charles and Paul are supposed to be studying for their exams but all Paul does is party with a wide assortment of decadent sophisticates who all seem to be drawn to his natural magnetism that he seems to have inherited from a world traveling father. Paul embraces life in his way, while all Charles seems to do is worry and write letter after letter to his mother. Paul seems to like his country cousin and Charles seems intrigued by Paul's social charm and carefree lifestyle. Paul is comfortable around everyone but Charles just doesn't seem comfortable around anyone or anything except books, or so it seems (but nothing is really as it seems in this film).
Since Charles doesn't have any of Paul's city sophistication or social charms, Paul's friends see him as a nice enough guy but something of a bore and certainly not someone who can enjoy life like they can. Everyone in Paul's circle holds a libertine attitude toward love and sex but Charles is too naive to detect this so when he finds one of Paul's female friends, Florence, attractive he immediately professes his love for her the first chance he gets. Florence is amused by his attentions and seems to find him to be a change of pace from all of the other decadents in her circle. For a moment or two she even considers returning his love as if it were game. But Paul intervenes and this is when the dizzying psychological and plot twists and turns begin.
Without giving away any important plot and character details, suffice it to say that Charles, Paul, and Florence all live together for awhile. And all the while the three share an apartment Charles seems to study day and night, while Paul engages in one extravagant entertainment after another as if his entire existence were just one long attempt to stave off boredom. And suffice it to say that when final exams come round things don't go quite as expected.
But who, you will find yourself asking after the last scene when a body lies dead on the floor, was really the good guy and who was really the bad guy? And what was Florence's hand in all of this?
Chabrol fans will be thrilled to finally get a glimpse of this long unavailable film which might not become their favorite Chabrol but will most certainly help them make a most interesting addition to their Chabrol collection. Although Chabrol died last year, he made nearly 50 films in his career. His greatest film may well be 1995's La Ceremonie although many contend that his greatest period was 68-75 when he made Les Biches, La Femme Infidele, Le Boucher, Just Before Nightfall, Wedding in Blood and Innocents with Dirty Hands among others.