For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – French New Wave Films here’s a review of Le Beau Serge and Les Cousins (1958) by David of BluePrint: Review.
Thanks again to Keith of Keith & the Movies for choosing this month’s genre.
Next month’s genre has been chosen by Kristen of KN Winiarski Writes and we will be reviewing our favorite Classic Fantasy films (thru the 1970’s).
Please get me your submissions by the 25th of Nov by sending them to email@example.com
Try to think out of the box! Great choice Kristen!
Let’s see what David thought of this movie:
Chabrol’s follow up to Le Beau Serge was Les Cousins, a film which plays out like a sort of mirror image of his debut. Where the first had its protagonist come to the country from the city and find himself struggling to understand the values and actions of the backwards inhabitants of a small village, the second follows a wholesome country boy who is corrupted when he moves to the city and struggles to fit in with the ‘hip’ young crowd there. Charles (Blain) moves in with his popular, party-throwing, hipster cousin Paul (Brialy) whilst he studies for his exams in Paris. At first he is enthralled by the extravagant soirees and wild and wonderful friends that surround Paul, but when he falls in love with the promiscuous young Florence (Juliette Mayniel), Charles discovers a darker side to this decadent and ‘free’ lifestyle.
I think Chabrol really wanted to prove himself with this film. In interviews he has expressed a disappointment in his debut work and I believe that is why he did such a 180 degree turn. One of the most obvious examples of this, beyond the setting, is the casting. Chabrol brings back the two leads from Le Beau Serge, but couldn’t give them more different characters. Where Blain was all passion and explosive anger in the earlier film, here he is clean cut, restrained and much more inwardly troubled. Where Brialy was previously the straight guy out to do good for the world, here he is an incredibly flamboyant character with a viscous edge. Both actors handle the change effortlessly. Blain broods extremely well with a simmering anger which never quite reveals itself and Brialy is intoxicating to watch, imbuing his character with all of the necessary charisma and sex appeal needed for such a figure.
And Chabrol is on top form too. Les Cousins has a greater energy than Le Beau Serge, with more camera movement and the occasional fast-cutting sequence. There’s a lull in the middle, but there’s always enough to chew on to keep you engaged. Like Le Beau Serge, the narrative is fairly sparse and the film focuses more on the characters and their interactions. As before, what Chabrol does well is keep such a situation tense and entrancing through a firm understanding of cinematic technique without blinding the viewer with tricks or gimmicks.
The twists Chabrol did with Les Cousins didn’t necessarily make it a better experience for me though, just a different one. As well as the slow patch mentioned earlier, the inherent nastiness of the characters and cynical nature of the film itself make it difficult to truly love, but like Le Beau Serge, it’s still a masterful piece of filmmaking from a director that truly hit the ground running.
Chabrol is often called the ‘French Hitchcock’ (he was a huge fan of the director) and at first this is difficult to see in his films. The thriller elements are often very mild – in Les Cousins there are just a few dramatic turns at the end that might place it in that genre. What Chabrol was more interested in though was the psychology behind Hitchcock’s work. He probed the hidden depths of what really made the greats such as Vertigo and Rear Window tick, without pandering to the audience with the surface thrills those often contained. He maybe did this more clearly in his later work, but these two films are still a great place to start if you haven’t already given Chabrol a try.