Les Cousins (1959)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

, 1959. , . Scenario by Claude Chabrol, dialogue by . Cinematography by . Produced by Claude Chabrol. Music by . Production Design by , . Film Editing by .

Claude Chabrol’s sophomore directorial effort has him reunite his Beau Serge stars and , but this time he reverses their direction of travel, bringing country mouse Charles (Blain) to the bustling metropolis of Paris where city mouse Paul (Brialy) hosts him.

They’re cousins and both are students, but Charles keeps his nose in his books and writes dutiful letters home to his mother, perpetually conscious of the sacrifices she has made for him, while rich bohemian Paul lives it up on a nightly basis, throwing wild parties in his chic apartment that go until dawn and leave plenty of broken glasses and dirty furniture for the building’s maid to clean up.

Chabrol had not yet established himself as the French Hitchcock via the series of nerve-jangling suspense films that he would unveil in the coming years, but there are hints of that path in this amoral character study, in which those who do their duty have no guarantee of success, and those who have gone where they don’t belong pay a high price for doing so. One party scene has a brilliant moment where Chabrol places his camera outside a window and cuts the sound, observing the revelers as if they are goldfish in a bowl, amused and amusing but, ultimately, going absolutely nowhere.

The plot finds its spine around the woman who comes between the two men, as Charles first notices Florence () and they enjoy a sweet courtship until Paul convinces her to stop thinking she can overcome her checkered past, and takes her into their apartment as his own lover instead. Charles reacts with good nature but is clearly sublimating his frustration into his concentration on his studies, and as the pressures mount towards the fateful day of his examination, it’s obvious that things are not headed in a very pleasant direction.

Sharp and effective black and white cinematography by French New Wave legend Henri Decae puts the perfect gloss on this tale of masculinity at war, while the perfectly-wrought performances make a film that is, seemingly, an aimless character study feel as carefully mapped out as a great mystery narrative.

Features Chabrol’s first time collaborating with actress , who would soon be his wife.

The Criterion Collection: #581

Berlin Film Festival Award: Golden Bear

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