Director- Claude Chabrol
Starring-Gerard Blain, Jean-Claude Braily
Reviewed May 5, 2016
Les Cousins is a 1959 Claude Chabrol French language film. Made in black and white and set in Paris, the focus is on metropolitan life as seen from the perspective of one of the main characters, who is from the country and far removed from the bustle and complexities of city life. The focal point is contrasting traits- personality, background, and otherwise, as the film delves into psychological aspects that lend themselves to making the film a character driven experience, and quite thought provoking. Les Cousins is open to many interpretations. The film, therefore, has many nuances to ponder and sink ones teeth into deep thought.
Hence the title, Les Cousins is about two male cousins, Charles and Paul. They appear to be similar in age and are both law students, but opposites in almost every other way. Paul is the alpha male- self centered, quick-tempered, and forceful. Living an affluent life in the heart of Paris, he has many friends, is a social butterfly, and has no filter with his criticisms and judgments of others.
Charles, on the other hand has a completely different set of qualities. Sent by his mother to live with Paul and study for the agonizing, impending law exam, Charles is meek, quiet, and insecure. When Charles meets Florence, a beautiful friend of Paul’s, who has a reputation for “sleeping around”, Charles falls madly in love with her, almost love at first sight, unaware of her reputation. What follows is a strange triangle between Paul, Florence, and Charles that is laced with jealousy, revenge, and ultimately violence.
Each of the three principal characters and their relationship with each other is interesting to ponder and is at the heart of the film. When Paul realizes that Charles is in love with Florence is he disturbed by this turn of events? Does he feel sorry for Charles or elicit some perverse joy in bedding Florence in front of Charles? If so, why does he resent Charles?
Is Florence in love with Charles or is it a guise? Does she even realize the extent of his love for her? Clearly a sexually expressive woman, she is not outlandish in her appearance and for all intents and purposes seems quite virginal to the outside viewer. Doe she enjoy the fact that the unwitting Charles sees her as pure? Does she wish that she actually were virginal?
Finally, the complexity of Charles’ character is mysterious. We learn that he writes letters to his mother every day to give her updates on his studying habits and the exam. Does he harbor resentment towards his mother? Is he a “mama’s boy”? Is he overwhelmed in the city? Does he truly love Florence (tough to believe after one or two dates) or simply yearn for the freedom that she represents?
We see countless scenes of Paul and his good-looking friends engaging in various forms of merriment, usually in his modern apartment, overlooking the city. Clearly he is affluent. Is this the main reason for his popularity? The party-goers are all well-dressed and very good-looking- sort of a fraternity party for the exceptionally tailored, if you will. Interesting to note is a female couple- appearing to be a lesbian couple- featured numerous times at the parties. Is this meant to show Paul and Parisians in general as open minded and progressive?
A revolver- with only one bullet in a six chamber gun, prevalent throughout the film in a Russian roulette sequence, comes into play at the startling conclusion of the film. Without completely revealing the ending, someone is mortally wounded in the last sequence of the film and we are left to ponder what happens now. Are the survivors lives forever changed and ruined? A knock at the door just prior to the credits rolling leave us wondering who is there.
My one complaint of Les Cousins is that it takes a long time to get deep into the complexities of the film and, in fact, I was left pondering the film after it ended more than I was completely engaged throughout the actual film. I also wondered if perhaps the pompous and over-indulgences were slightly overdone to elicit more audience reaction and contrasting elements between Paul and Charles.
A French new wave experience by one of France’s best directors, Les Cousins is a character study of three interesting characters that leave the audience thinking about their lives past, present, and future, comparing their idiosyncrasies, actions, and thoughts to delve deeper into their psyches.