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Customer Review

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Murder, elections and secrets...all the things that make the new French grande bourgeoisie so interesting, 19 Jun. 2007
This review is from: Flower of Evil [DVD] [2004] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
We are the eyes of the camera, moving from the dark shadows of trees, across a gravel driveway, through the entrance of a large house, past an open door where a maid is setting out dishes on a table, up the stairs and past a room where a young woman is sitting on the floor, clasping her knees, down the hallway and into a bedroom, then past the corpse on the floor to focus on his hand grasping the coverlet. All the while we hear a cheap, romantic song coming from a radio somewhere in the house...

A memory

comes to you in your dreams

but it is not what it seems

and haunts you for eternity.

A memory

makes you believe he has never gone

that there's no need to grieve

and that the past lives on.

The Flower of Evil (La Fleur du Mal) is an almost elegiac Claude Chabrol movie that starts with a dead man and finishes with our understanding of how he came to be dead. In 101 minutes between these two points we find ourselves in the lives of a family whose secrets seem to repeat themselves. This isn't so much a mystery as a parable of inevitability. It also is a movie of deliberate story-telling. It takes its time as we observe the Charpin-Vasseur family. What a family it is. Chabrol once again opens the window to let the stale air of the French grande bourgeoisie out of the room. You may need a family chart to keep things straight at first, and one is provided as an extra on the DVD as well as in an insert.

Anne Charpin-Vasseur (Nathalie Baye) is running for the office of mayor. She is married to Gerard Vasseur (Bernard Le Coq). They married after their spouses, who had been having an affair with each other, were killed in a crash. Anne has a daughter from that first marriage, Michele Charpin-Vasseur (Melanie Doutey). Gerard has a son from his first marriage, Francois Vasseur (Benoit Magimel). Francois has been in America for three years and has just returned. The family lives in a fine country home with Aunt Line (Suzanne Flon). Anne is in for a nasty surprise when an anonymous letter accuses her publicly of being from a family whose members were Nazi collaborators, informers, unethical about they ways they made their money, and a family with a taste for brother-sister incest. Of course, it's all true. Francois and Michele, within a day of his return, not exactly a brother and sister but at least as close as cousins, have become lovers, aided by Aunt Line. She, in fact, in her youth was suspected of having killed her father, the collaborator, who sent his son, Line's brother, to his death when the young man joined the Resistance. You can see how a family chart can come in handy.

For the length of this movie we observe the family...the drive of Anne to be elected mayor, the womanizing of her husband who is always charming, the disdain of Francois for his father, the times Aunt Line can drift into a momentary reverie when we share with her the voices from her past. And that's largely what happens, slowly and deliberately, bit by bit, as we patch pieces together until, an hour and twenty minutes into the film, we encounter a woman hitting a man with a vase, two women dragging him up the stairs and into a bedroom, and one of the women taking his hand to twist the fingers into the coverlet. "I feel as if I am doing things backward," says one of the women. We realize that, with her life, she is. When she tries to comfort the other, she can only hold the other woman's face in her hands and say, "Oh, my dear, time doesn't matter. You'll see. Life is one perpetual present."

I found the movie to be a fine example of Chabrol's craftsmanship and storytelling. As often with Chabrol, it's the women who dominate the story. Nathalie Baye and, particularly, Suzanne Flon, provide the energy and the calm that make the movie work. Flon, 85 when she made the movie, gives us an almost fragile Aunt Michelina, a woman who has seen and done many things in her life, and who has in the present so many echoes of her past. If Baye tends to dominate the first half of the movie, Flon serves up the second half on a platter for us.

This is the kind of movie that some will say, "Nothing happens." They'd be wrong.

The DVD transfer is adequate; the picture is softer than it should be. There are no significant extras. Do yourself a favor, however, and study the family chart of the Charpin and Vasseur families. It will simplify considerably the first 20 minutes or so of the movie.
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Reviewer

C. O. DeRiemer
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   

Location: San Antonio, Texas, USA

Top Reviewer Ranking: 1,014