Les Cousins (1959)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Psychological Drama, Urban Drama  |   Release Date - Mar 11, 1959 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 112 min.  |   Countries - France   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Craig Butler

Most tales of the "city mouse, country mouse" variety tend to be rather lighthearted, but Les Cousins takes a darker view of the situation, resulting in a fascinating, mesmerizing, bleak film, the comedy of which is distinctly black. In director/writer Claude Chabrol's tale, the simple virtues of "good" cousin Charles cannot compete with the decadent force of will the "bad" cousin Paul. In Charles' eyes, it is all unfair, yet Chabrol doesn't see it that way. There isn't really fair or unfair, or perhaps it's more correct to say that determining fair and unfair requires a more complex way of looking at things than is normally assumed. Moral ambiguity and guilt are Chabrol's stock in trade here, and he layers the story with them in a most affecting manner. The result is a cruel film, but its brutality has an honesty to it. One cannot warm to Paul, whose arrogance and sadism keep him at a distance. But Charles never quite captures one's heart either, despite his role as the victim. Chabrol contrasts them in a complicated pas de deux that brings them vividly to life. He's aided immeasurably by Gerard Blain and Jean-Claude Brialy's letter-perfect performances, as ell as by an equally effective on from Juliette Mayniel. Some will find Cousins difficult to watch, especially the orgy sequence with its Nazi ending. But those who can stick with it will be amply rewarded.