YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Chabrol shows his compassionate side in 'Flower of Evil'

October 17, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

"The Flower of Evil," Claude Chabrol's 50th film in a 45-year-career, finds the New Wave pioneer in top form. On its inevitably stylish surface this film seems business as usual for Chabrol: There's the handsome, well-mannered bourgeois family with its equally handsome ancestral manor house and all kinds of dark doings, past and present, threatening to break through the facade of respectability.

As similar as so many Chabrol films are to each other, they are all different because his people are so thoroughly and individually characterized, and this film further possesses a graceful briskness and economy that can be achieved only through long experience.

More than anything else, Chabrol loves to stage an especially nasty or messy murder or accidental death to reveal bourgeois hypocrisy. But Caroline Eliacheff and Louise L. Lambrichs' script, which Chabrol adapted in addition to writing its dialogue, allows him to express considerable compassion for those he feels deserving of it while also accepting hypocrisy as an inevitable part of life. As Francois Vasseur (Benoit Magimel) wryly observes in the film, "Hypocrisy is civilization."

Francois, a law student, has just returned home, in the Bordeaux region, after three years studying in America to escape his family, which he feels is stifled by its past. His elegant stepmother, Anne (Nathalie Baye), is running for mayor, much to the displeasure of her spoiled child of a husband, Gerard (Bernard Le Coq), who owns and operates a large, newly expanded pharmacy and medical lab. He plays around but still wants his wife's undivided attention. Also, Anne's campaigning is not without risk, for the classy Charpin-Vasseurs have an unseemly number of skeletons rattling around in the closet.

Just for starters, Francois' great-grandfather Pierre Charpin was an enthusiastic collaborator with the Germans who met a scandalously bad and murky end. Also, that Gerard's first wife, sister to Anne, and Anne's first husband, were killed in the same car accident in 1981, raised plenty of local eyebrows.

Tension thus starts building beneath the polished surfaces of the Charpin-Vasseur estate as the long-standing but unstated attraction between Francois and his half-sister Michele (Melanie Doutey) intensifies amid other emotions simmering within the family. Coming to the fore as events unfold is Francois' resilient great-aunt Line Charpin (Suzanne Flon), keeper of the family secrets and the family's clear-eyed mainstay, a woman of deep sorrows but also of much strength and daring as well as loving attentiveness.

As "Flower of Evil" ("La Fleur du Mal," in its original French) unravels, Chabrol ponders the lingering, unresolved guilt that can endanger a family from one generation to the next yet also marvels at the paradoxical nature of the possibilities for redemption.

A lot of what goes on in this film is darkly outrageous yet is always persuasive, thanks to a fine ensemble cast that includes Chabrol's son Thomas as Anne's attentive aide, who is also running as her deputy. But it is Flon, a delicately formidable grande dame of the French cinema, who is the mainstay of "The Flower of Evil" as she is of its haunted family. This is another gratifying gem from a master.


'Flower of Evil'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Complex adult themes, some violence

Nathalie Baye...Anne

Benoit Magimel...Francois

Suzanne Flon...Aunt Line

Bernard Le Coq...Gerard

Melanie Doutey...Michele

Thomas Chabrol...Matthieu

A Palm Pictures release of a Marin Karmitz presentation of a co-production of MK2 and

France 3 Cinema. Director Claude Chabrol. Producer Marin Karmitz. Executive producer Yvon Crenn. Screenplay Caroline Eliacheff and Louise L. Lambrichs; adaptation and dialogue by Chabrol. Cinematographer Eduardo Serra. Editor Monique Fardoulis. Music Matthieu Chabrol. Costumes Mic Cheminal. Art director Francoise Benoit-Fresco. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.

At selected theaters.

Los Angeles Times Articles