The Flower of Evil

Director: Claude Chabrol

France| 2003. Subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 101 mins.

The Flower of Evil, Claude Chabrol’s 50th feature film, pulls us once more into the French director’s special territory: the dark heart and secret guilt of the modern French bourgeoisie. That’s the core of Chabrol’s art and his half-century career. Time hasn’t dulled his skills or eye. The Flower of Evil is one of Chabrol’s most typical films and one of his best. Stylish, ingenious and gleaming with charm, wit and malice, it’s another expert blend of domestic drama and crime thriller, a vivisection of the bourgeoisie.
Here, Chabrol turns his laser vision on an outwardly reputable family, the Charpin-Vasseurs. We know from the film’s first shot that someone (unidentified) has been killed, and the family proves to have a closet full of skeletons—even as Anne Charpin-Vasseur (Nathalie Baye) nears the end of a local campaign for mayor, waged against the wishes of sly husband Gerard Vasseur (Bernard Le Coq). With smoothness and precision, Chabrol introduces us to Gerard’s son François (Benoît Magimel), just back from a three-year stay in Chicago, and to Anne’s daughter Michele (Melanie Doutey). Michele is in love with François—her stepbrother, but also her cousin—and he returns the passion.
The tale sounds dark, but the handling is light and urbane. The movie takes us back and forth in time seamlessly, all the while moving toward twin climaxes, one revealing the election result, the other revealing the identities of victim and killer. Chabrol calls Flower of Evil one of the two favourites of his entire career. It is a jewel of a film, deftly interweaving past and present, image and reality. The elegant, subversive visuals recall Luis Buñuel’s late films, and the acting is flawless.

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