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Blood Relatives 
Written by: on May 27th, 2006

Theatrical Release Date: Canada/France, 1979
Director: Claude Chabrol
Cast: Donald Sutherland, Donald Pleasance, David Hemmings, Stephane Audran, Lisa Langlois

DVD released: 31st January 2000
Approximate running time:  91 mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Rating: 18
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono
DVD Release:  Carlton
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL
Retail Price: £6.99

When Patricia runs into Detective Carella’s police station and claims that her teenage cousin, Muriel, has been murdered after a sexual assault which she has escaped from, Carella starts to chase down the killer. At first he trawls the pedophiles and then Patricia claims her brother, Andrew, is the killer but Carella suspects her loathsome boss. As a father the detective wants to protect this young woman but when he discovers Muriel’s diary he learns that brotherly love and jealousy are the real roots of this crime.

“he should love his sister more than his cousin”

Blood relatives is one of Chabrol’s more successful film making journeys away from his native France. Set in Canada and boasting the wonderful Donald Sutherland as the understanding sleuth who looks through the underbelly of society before finding his truth in a dysfunctional respectable family, Blood Relatives is one of a number of films that Chabrol has made with incest as a theme. Like Flower of Evil, Les Cousins and Violette Noziere Blood Relatives takes the relations in a family and shows how these are defended by a threat to their structure. Here Muriel’s affair with Andrew is resolved by Patricia asserting her sisterly love.

Like most of Chabrol’s films this is not simple thriller territory despite a very generic opening. The film follows a procedural path for it’s first 45 minutes with the sleuth showing great sympathy and delicacy with Patricia as a victim and then investigating paedophiles and their victims. Here Pleasance pops up as a lying pervert having to incriminate his 12 year old lover to have an alibi for the murder. Then the sleuth’s attentions turn to Muriel’s smooth married boss who acts as a catalyst to destroy the relationship between the cousins with help of Muriel’s burgeoning guilt. The film then turns into an extended flashback narrated from Muriel’s diary. When the flashback ends there is a final twist in the tale which leads to the line quoted above.

Not a classic Chabrol but the taking of a classic plot and the playing with the family at its centre prove rich pickings. At the beginning  Sutherland walks in the park  with his teenage daughter who remarks “we are like lovers” but he contradicts this firmly. This contrast with  the central family led by a drunken mother and an ignorant father whose charges develop a ménage a trois that leads to murder. Pleasance’s  young lover is disturbingly pre-possessed and the of adult age children are clearly unable to manage their affairs. The disturbing Pleasance is compared with the lying and legal Hemmings as Muriel’s philandering boss.

This moral morass is fertile territory for hypocrisy and bourgeois morals and Chabrol is at home here even if he doesn’t have the same feel for this society as he does for his native France. The film is structured well and shot very effectively around the central murder. This is an above average thriller and well worth a viewing.

The DVD:

Carlton’s disc is exceedingly cheap and the only version I know of this film on DVD. However it is an appalling pan and scan treatment of a very dark print. If anything it feels like a bootleg or a dupe of a VHS. This leads to the brilliant murder sequence being lost in darkness and everyone looking as if blood pressure is a problem. The sound is tinny and the poor score by Howard Blake sounds even worse. Apparently the French dub has a score from Chabrol regular Pierre Jansen and a future release should restore this.

No extras. Nope, none.

I think there are few worse presentations of a movie than this disc but Chabrol collectors may be able to hold their noses whilst buying this. For everyone else wait till it’s on TV.

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