Written by: John White on May 14th, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: France, 2002
Director: Claude Chabrol
Cast: Nathalie Baye, Benoit Magimel, Suzanne Flon, Bernard Le Coq, Melanie Doutey, Thomas Chabro
DVD released: April 20th 2004
Approximate running time: 101 mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo & 5.1
DVD Release: Palm/MK2/Lion’s Gate
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $24.98
Warning – this review contains spoilers
The Charpin-Vasseurs are a wealthy family who live in Bordeaux. Anne has become involved in politics and is looking to become Mayor when a leaflet is distributed referring to dark secrets of the family including collaboration with the Nazis and murder. Anne’s daughter, Michele, and Gerard’s son, Francois have begun an affair as cousins and suspect that Gerard is responsible for the leaflet. Aunt Line whom the leaflet accuses of murder agrees and the three plan to expose him. Meanwhile Gerard invites young women to his office at work and snarls at Anne’s devoted running mate, Matthieu. Will history repeat itself and what will the family do to save itself?
Fleur du mal is a mixture of regular concerns of Chabrols. The themes of bourgeois life, the family, and previous guilt, particularly collaborationist guilt are present here. The film deals with how the Charpin-Vasseurs deal with a threat from within to it’s position and happiness. This threat comes not from the implied incest of Francois and Michele, or from the secrets of the past but from the hated patriarch Gerard. In order to end this threat, Aunt Line, the murderer, and Francois and Michele, the incestuous lovers, manage Gerard’s death. Gerard begins and ends the film dead in an upstairs room as Anne celebrates her election victory downstairs. The appearance of success unaffected by purging of the family.
Unusually, Chabrol’s central character is not the sexy and young Michele or Francois, or even the successful Anne, it is the elderly Aunt Line. Aunt Line is plagued by memories of the past and the loss of the ”man of my life”, she aids the kissing cousins’ romance and she takes the responsibility for the death of Gerard. Throughout this character and the words of Francois there is a constant theme of history repeating itself.
So the collaborationist great grandfather is murdered and the philandering malicious Gerard is dispensed with – both because of incestuous love. Chabrol has fun with this air of guilt in his screenplay. A game of scrabble won with the word “conceal” and a brilliant composition framing Aunt Line and Michele behind a bird’s cage.
Like most of Chabrol’s thrillers, La Fleur du Mal is not a whodunnit but a study of how these people defend themselves. Gerard is not wholly evil, his philandering is always behind a closed door and there is no evidence he did write the leaflet. Similarly the joy in the family around the kissing cousins seems to miss the possibility that Francois and Michele share the same father. And the adoration of Anne by her running mate is possibly not wholly innocent. This complexity and ability to be read in many ways is the strength of this later Chabrol film, at least as good as any later Chabrols this is a marvelous appealing movie that begs the adage that “the family that slays together stays together”!
The Lion’s Gate disc is terrific overall. The main feature is a little soft at times and has a greenish hue but the look of Eduardo Serra’s cinematography makes most later Chabrols look this way. The print is transferred well and there is little noise on it. The English subtitles are excellent throughout.
The extras include a helpful family tree to keep abreast of all the interbreeding, a photo gallery and weblinks.
This is a fine disc if not overburdened with extras. This is a must buy for Chabrol fans as he is seriously good in these twisted scenarios and satirically perverse, if you enjoyed Blood Relatives or Violette Noziere then you will love this.