Director: Claude Chabrol
Starring: Gérard Blain, Jean-Claude Brialy, Juliette Mayniel, Claude Cerval
Language: French, German
Duration: 109 min.
The tale of two cousins with vastly different approaches to life. Charles, a young studious provincial man who moves to Paris to study law; and Paul, a decadent privileged youth who throws wild parties and travels with a large entourage.
Les Cousins is the second film from French New Wave director Claude Chabrol. It premiered at the 1959 Berlin International Film Festival where it won the Golden Bear.
In somewhat of a companion piece to his first film Le Beau Serge, here Chabrol brings back the two stars, Gérard Blain and Jean-Claude Brialy to play the titular characters. This time their roles and also their situations are flipped in reverse, Blain is now the naive arrival moving from the country to the city while Brialy plays the welcoming carefree and decadent cousin.
Stylistically this one feels much more like a New Wave film. There are the young charismatic and morally ambiguous characters, interesting non traditional camera techniques; Chabrol has a fondness for slow circular panning shots, and of course the requisite on-location scene in the streets of Paris in a convertible sports car.
The strength of this film lies in part by the intense and borderline over-the-top performance from Brialy as Paul, the egomaniacal rich kid who enjoys toying with people. A despicable person through and through, but what a fun character to watch. Secondly, and most importantly it succeeds from Chabrol's subtle and effective direction. The story here is perhaps not the most interesting or believable, but we are drawn in by a sense of underlying tension that Chabrol creates from the start and escalates little by little as the film goes on. Using clever camera tricks and a great sense of positioning the action in both the foreground and background of the frame, he is able to gradually manipulate the tone of the film from what first appears to be a light almost comedic atmosphere into a dark and noir-ish feel, all done in a way that is both obvious and unexpected. Even if we can easily predict how the film will end, the delightful suspense still keeps us guessing until that last moment.
Les Cousins is an evolutionary step above his first film, and clearly displays some impressive directing techniques that make this an interesting and worthwhile addition, even if the quality of the screenplay and characters are somewhat lacking.
— Bonjour Tristesse