think I’m going to have sex with my cousin,
or maybe she’s not my
cousin. Maybe she’s my half-sister! Alright!”
“The Flower of Evil” (“La Fleur
Directed by Claude Chabrol
Written by Claude Chabrol, Caroline Eliacheff and
Louise L. Lambrichs
Produced by Marin Karmitz
Starring Benoît Magimel, Nathalie Baye, Mélanie
Doutey, Suzanne Flon, Bernard Le Coq and Thomas Chabrol
In French with English subtitles
(out of four)
Claude Chabrol loves to make films about the bourgeoisie’s
dark side and the quiet stench of murder. With “The
Flower of Evil,” he provides another disturbing,
droll, sinister work of secrets. The French New Wave
master has never stopped working since he kicked
off the movement in 1958, and still hasn’t
lost his style. Few other filmmakers would place
a dead body between two characters in a key emotional
moment and directly follow it with what might have
looked like a scare tactic if the characters didn’t
“The Flower of Evil” bandies a wealthy
family through local politics, scandalous pasts, incest,
adultery and, of course, murder.
The son of the family, Francois (Benoît Magimel),
returns to his French town after spending three years
in America. His father, Gérard (Bernard Le
Coq), picks him up and makes small talk, discussing
different family members like Anne (Nathalie Baye),
apparently Francois’s mother who is running
for town mayor, Aunt Line (Suzanne Flon) and someone
named Michéle (Mélanie Doutey) who
he says is very beautiful. The family structure eventually
becomes as clear as this particular family can be.
Anne is Francois’ stepmother and Michéle’s
mother. After Anne’s husband and cousin died
in an accident with Gérard’s wife, Anne
married Gérard—yes, her cousin and brother-in-law.
Her Aunt Line serves as the family’s consistent
source of pleasantry, but we hear voiceovers in her
head as she remembers dark moments of the family’s
Perhaps Francois left suddenly years ago because
of his feelings for his cousin, Michéle, who
is still beautiful and was unable to find new love
while Francois was gone. They decide to drive out
to the family’s vacation home and talk about
how Francois once heard his mother say that his father
wasn’t his real father. However, although the
film confirms it, if Michéle, the daughter
of two cousins, isn’t Francois’ cousin,
she’s probably his half-sister.
If this family tree didn’t have enough knots,
the sleazy stepfather Gérard uses his pharmacy
location to seduce young women who look quite a bit
like Michéle. The kids suspect him of writing
a smear flier against his wife, detailing her family’s
history, which includes her grandfather’s Nazi
collaboration, which led to his murder, of which
Aunt Line was acquitted but considered guilty.
Chabrol doesn’t confirm or deny the family’s
justification in their deep hatred of Gérard.
His small talk with Francois on the way back from
the airport is the same small talk most fathers would
have with their newly returning sons. And his disapproval
of his wife’s political ambitions isn’t
that uncommon either—there’s no evidence
that he wrote the flier. While he usually acts like
a normal person, the family has been nursing hatred
toward him for years.
This ambiguity recalls Chabrol’s “La
Cérémonie” (1995) in which a
maid becomes increasing angry at her employees while
they try to be extremely understanding.
The film turns to the lower class when Anne goes
through the chore of campaigning in the low-rent
housing area. One of the families there keeps the
chair-ridden grandfather closed up in a back room,
asking for food whenever somebody opens the door.
These people would probably like to gossip and
hide family secrets too, if only they didn’t have
to worry about their four kids and two jobs. This
droll humor, along with his fascination with suspense,
has earned Chabrol many comparisons with Alfred Hitchcock.
While Chabrol has always taken cues from Hitchcock,
his films are a little less concerned with thrills.
His films with violence, of which there are many
in his 45-year career, often have only one outburst.
His 1970 masterpiece “Le Bucher” doesn’t
show its murders, it reports them through hearsay.
Chabrol’s muted approach to storytelling nevertheless
creates suspense through the constant feeling that
things aren’t right. The opening shot pushes
through the lush, privacy-creating trees of the family’s
house. Then it goes inside and up the stairs, seeing
a woman setting the table on its way up, looking
through a door at a person sitting on the floor on
its way to the room with a dead body. Later, when
the camera pushes through the foliage masking a beach,
it creates the same sinister feeling—even though
the scene is pretty—with no dead body. Chabrol’s
camera very conspicuously adjusts its framing as
focus shifts from characters who are standing up
to those who are sitting down. In one instance, Chabrol
uses a bird cage in the foreground, implying that
the characters are trapped.
The entire family is trapped in a cage of personal
desires, a haunting history and confusing identities.
Chabrol observes that murder isn’t much of
a worry for people who have been keeping up appearances
under duress for generations.