Les cousins: Criterion Collection
September 20, 2011
French filmmaker Claude Chabrol not only wrote the screenplays for Le beau Serge (1958) and Les cousins (1959) around the same time but also filmed them close together, utilizing much of the same cast and crew. The latter film was a big hit for Chabrol and became one of the key films in the French New Wave movement.
Charles (Blain) has just arrived from the country to visit his cousin Paul (Brialy) who lives in Paris. The city dweller is a theatrical bohemian type that starts things off by giving his cousin a tour of his uncle’s spacious bachelor pad. Charles is enrolled in a university and concerned that he’s not studying enough. He’s the more sensitive type in comparison to Paul’s larger than life personality that comes complete with dry sarcasm. We get some insight into his character when he deals with the news of a girlfriend’s pregnancy by paying for her to have an abortion as casually as you would send someone out to buy milk.
The next day, Paul and Charles are driving around Paris in his sports car as the former tries to set the latter up with a girl. At a bar, Paul introduces Charles to Florence (Mayniel) and he becomes immediately smitten with her. Charles meets the rest of Paul’s hipster friends when they host a party. They’re a colorful assortment of characters with varying degrees of pretension. However, Charles does cross paths with Florence again and the two hit it off.
Charles is certainly the more mature of the two but he’s still trying to figure out what he wants out of life while Paul lives for the moment. Gerard Blain and Jean-Claude Brialy do an excellent job of inhabiting their respective characters and fleshing out their relationship as they wrestle with notions of friendship and jealousy. Charles wears his heart on his sleeve while Paul plays things close to the vest.
Les cousins explores the complex relationship between two wildly different cousins while also capturing what it meant to be young and in Paris during the late 1950’s. He nails the often poseur nature of young artsy types as they live in that nebulous period of their lives between school and settling down to adult life. Sadly, Chabrol made a series of unsuccessful films and became a director for hire in the mid-1960’s but kept working, making over 50 features.
There is an audio commentary by film critic Adrian Martin. He starts off by putting Chabrol in the context of the French New Wave. The director was more conventional in style and content then someone like Jean-Luc Godard. Martin points out that Chabrol was fascinated with crime fiction and Les cousins questions the nature of evil. Martin talks about the importance of Blain and Brialy in French cinema. The film critic provides a nice mix of analysis and production information including how the film was received at the time of its release.
Also included is a theatrical trailer.