Les cousins (Criterion) (Bilingual) [Blu-ray] (Version française)
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In Les cousins, Claude Chabrol (Les bonnes femmes) crafts a sly moral fable about a provincial boy who comes to live with his sophisticated bohemian cousin in Paris. Through these seeming opposites, Chabrol conjures a piercing, darkly comic character study that questions notions of good and evil, love and jealousy, and success in the modern world. A mirror image of Le beau Serge, Chabrol’s debut, Les cousins recasts that film’s stars, Jean-Claude Brialy and Gérard Blain, in startlingly reversed roles. This dagger-sharp drama won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and was an important precursor to the French New Wave.
SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES • New digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition • Audio commentary featuring film scholar Adrian Martin • A 2011 documentary by filmmaker Pierre-Henri Gibert about the making of Les cousins, featuring director Claude Chabrol, star Stéphane Audran, assistant directors Charles Bitsch and Claude de Givray, and others • New and improved English subtitle translation • Theatrical trailer • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty
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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.
As a fan of both Wagner as well as the German language, the "Candelbra Scene" works for me regardless of its contextual validity. The excerpts from Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" are used to great effect in this film -- Particularly during the Final Sequence (Chapter 20). On viewing this picture for the second time -- I was surprised and impressed by its depth and by how rapidly Chabrol's style had evolved since his first feature "Le Beau Serge". "Les Cousins" is an art film that superbly represents its time with its crisp black and white cinematography and settings that range from beatnik to bourgeois (-IE- Paul's apartment is a visual-design treat on its own). In comparison to its predecessor "Le Beau Serge" -- "Les Cousins" is a picture I can see returning to for repeated viewings. Though lesser known than "À Bout du Souffle" (Breathless) and "Les Quatre Cents Coups" (The 400 Blows) -- It is just as iconoclastic as its more famous peers of the Nouvelle Vague. Although Chabrol would go to make more accessible / commercial films than the quasi-experimental "Les Cousins" -- In this film one witnesses the emergence of the Chabrolian archetypes / leitmotifs. In essence -- With this picture Chabrol Becomes Chabrol.
Stephen C. Bird, Author of "Hideous Exuberance"
There are some interesting moments in the film, but it's mostly pretense. Back when it was made, people had a hard time telling the difference between Bergman and Fellini and the pretenders, like Chabrol and Antonioni. With the passage of time, the difference is obvious.
Mr. Chabrol's style is lyrical and surely ironic reminding of the great stories of his compatriot, Guy de Maupassant. I don't consider him Hitchcockian (as what other people see) but
true to the vein of Godard and Truffaut, directors who tackle
serious moral dilemmas set against oppressive surroundings.
In this movie there's no villain or hero but only the painful play of
chance and fate. And to me I learn one lesson (not to fool around with guns?) that I must never attempt a malicious action towards someone lest it boomerangs on me; at any rate,
this movie is not just a morality tale but an extremely entertaining, marvellous masterpiece.