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  Flower of Evil, The keeping murder in the family
Year: 2003
Director: Claude Chabrol
Stars: Nathalie Baye, Benoît Magimel, Suzanne Flon, Bernard Le Coq, Melanie Doutey, Thomas Chabrol, Henri Attal, Kevin Ahyi
Genre: Comedy, Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: As Claude Chabrol approaches his fifth decade of filmmaking his talent shows no sign of waning. This magnificent, tragicomic mystery opens with his sinuous camera prowling a garden, gliding inside a house and upstairs to discover a dead body. A gramophone record plays: “Memory is like a dream, a fleeting moment that won’t go away.” Sixty years later, Francois Vasseur (Benoît Magimel) returns from America to rejoin his family. Originally in-laws, Anne (Nathalie Baye) and Gerard (Bernard Le Coq) married after their previous spouses died in a car crash. An anonymous letter exposing dark secrets from the family’s past threatens Anne’s political ambitions. Beneath the familial façade, tensions simmer, caused by Gerard’s womanising ways and the semi-incestuous passion between stepsiblings, Francois and Michelle (Melanie Doutey), all observed by kindly, beloved Aunt Line (Suzanne Flon). Yet the descent into attempted rape and murder brings, not tragedy but a curious kind of redemption.

Inspired by the story of 19th century murderess Lizzie Borden, Chabrol was fascinated by her fate (imprisoned till the age of 67) pondering, “how she lived so long carrying such guilt and fear.” Co-writing his screenplay with Caroline Eliacheff and Louise Lambrichs, Chabrol delivers a languid, yet spellbinding fable. Many critics consider it the conclusion of a trilogy, presaged by the excellent La Ceremonie (1995) and Merci, pour la chocolate (2000). In each film a crime of the distant past is purged by a murder, or attempted murder committed in the present. In an introduction, critic Joel Magny also describes The Flower of Evil as “Chabrol’s most political film”, dealing as it does with modern upper middle classes beholden to the status quo, faux nationalism, and parallels drawn between family secrets and the legacy of Vichy-era France. Dysfunctional families are an overworked cliché in contemporary film and television, but Chabrol twists expectations. The murder is an almost cathartic act, healing wounds, reaffirming the love between Aunt Line, Michele and Francois. Revelations don’t destroy the bonds of family but bind generations together. As Aunt Line reflects: “Time doesn’t exist. Life is a perpetual present.”

Chabrol includes moments of Hitchcockian symbolism (Aunt Line and Michelle framed through a birdcage), mordant wit, and filmmaking flair (his camera floats away whenever Aunt Line reminisces). The ensemble playing is superb, everyone has their chance to shine: Anne’s strained canvassing for votes, Gerard’s sleazy chat up lines, Michelle and Francois’ sweet romance (only Chabrol could do that with incest), and Aunt Line and her niece cracking up while they haul a corpse upstairs.

Patrick Le Gall’s delightful making of documentary shows the sprightly, pipe smoking auteur in fine fettle. A Chabrol set seems like a fun place to be. We see him joking around with his actors, improvising camera set-ups, and instructing Le Coq how to leer at an actress’ cleavage (Purely because the scene demands it, of course).
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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Claude Chabrol  (1930 - 2010)

A renowned director of French thrillers, he was one of the originators of the French New Wave of the fifties and sixties, often concentrating on middle class characters going through crises that led to murder, and made around fifty of these films in his long career. Starting with Le Beau Serge in 1958, he went on to direct such respected efforts as Les Cousins, The Champagne Murders, Les Biches, This Man Must Die, Le Boucher, Blood Relatives, Poulet au Vinaigre, a version of Madame Bovary with frequent star Isabelle Huppert, L'enfer, La Ceremonie, The Girl Cut in Two with Ludivine Sagnier, and his final work for the cinema, Bellamy with Gerard Depardieu.

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