Les Cousins, Dir. Claude Chabrol (1959)

Juliette Mayniel as Florence visually trapped and Gerard Blain as Charles desperately trying to reach out to her.

Juliette Mayniel as Florence visually trapped and Gerard Blain as Charles desperately trying to reach out to her.

Rating: 10/10

I saw this  as part of the BFI’s nouvelle vague season. I also saw Diary Of A Country Priest  before this at the bfi and was so bored I left half-way through ( must see classic indeed) so this, the first new wave hit in Britain,  was a nice change to that film,  and it made me want to see more films by this French legend (I eagerly await the release of A Girl Cut In Two) .

The plot of is quite a simple one, and was apparently inspired by Balzac (who is also referenced in the film in a scene in a bookshop). It concerns two cousins who represent the differences between country folk and city folk. The fun-loving, amoral  and woman-chasing Paul (Jean-Claude Brialy) and the naive, sensitive and studious mummy’s boy Charles (Gerald Blain). Charles comes to live with Paul in Paris, much to his mother’s concern, whose fear that he will fall in love with the first woman he meets comes true when he is enchanted by the beautiful but incompatible  Florence (Juliette Mayniel ).

Like  The Public Enemy  the film constantly contrasts the pair, while Paul is busy chasing girls, drinking and displaying his charm, Paul stays cooped up in the spare room studyong or writing letters to his mum. Like Public Enemy  the bad relation is the charismatic and engaging one and Brialy brings great vitality and wit to the role. Although unlike that film Charles is not played by a wooden actor.

Gerald Blain was a true discovery for me and reminded me very much of Montgomery Clift in looks aswell in the sensitivity of his performance, you felt for him throughout his struggles in the film as he tries to bury himself in work and forget Florence, whilst also realising how his dependence on his mother (comically writing inhis first  letter from Paul’s apartment that he took his shoes off in the coach like she asked him to, to illustrate this) has left him very vulnerable to being hurt. 

The film illustrates, unlike Public Enemy again, that acting good and keeping away from temptation doesn’t necessarily mean that things will work out good for you. It twists cliched morality on it’s head to show the rutlhlessness of fate where bribery and not hard-work secures good exam results.

There are great scenes as well in the film such as the party scene (similar to the one at the end of La Dolce Vita) where hedonism rules and even an Italian aristocrat is reduced to a begging desperate womaniser who ends up passing out from too much alcohol (a great comic performance from Corrado Guardacci). While Charles and Florence watches it all with bemusement and detachment  from the stairwell (which acts a a visual metaphor, Charles is above these things). The scene ends with them going for a drive while drunk, an indication of how reckless Paul and his friends are.

There are great performances also from Mayniel as Florence who engaged as a girl caught between her hedonistic lifestyle and her desire to be good, represented by her alternating relationships with Paul and Charles (the sense of her being trapped also represented by a shot of her behind what appears to be prison bars on the balcony.Guy Decombe is also wonderful as the wise bookseller, a man Charles comes to for advice and who decries the thrillers and dirty books that the students buy off him while he tries to sell them Dostoevsky.

Overall an interesting look into early new wave cinema, with interesting characters, camerwork and great witty dialogue that shows the excitement of  telling stories afresh with a new unknown actors.

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