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    The Flower of Evil

    Petal pusher

    Claude Chabrol pushes his luck with "The Flower of Evil," an overly wordy account of family intrigue.


    For his 53rd feature film, veteran cinˇaste Claude Chabrol produces a muddy mˇlange of his favorite themes — murder, mayhem and incest — among the middle class.

    Original title: La Fleur du Mal.
    Directed by: Claude Chabrol.
    Written by: Claude Chabrol, Caroline Eliacheff, Louise L. Lambrichs.
    Cast: Nathalie Baye, Beno”t Magimel, Suzanne Flon, Bernard Lecoq, Mˇlanie Doutey, Thomas Chabrol.
    In French with English subtitles.
    New York Film Festival 2003
  • 21 Grams
  • The Barbarian Invasions
  • Crimson Gold
  • Dogville
  • Elephant

  • The Flower of Evil
  • The Fog of War
  • Mystic River
  • Raja
  • S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine

  • Festival site
  • Nineteenth-century "po¸te maudit" Charles Baudelaire might well chortle over the singular appropriation of his most famous title, "Les Fleurs du Mal," by 83-year-old 20th-century countryman and director Claude Chabrol. Baudelaire's scandalous collection of poems and Chabrol's film both aim to astonish by leading their audience into a morass of depraved morbidity, but hˇlas, only Baudelaire succeeds.

    In the conjoined Charpin/Vasseur families, secrets and lies are the order of the day. Anne (Natalie Baye) married her brother-in-law Gerard (Bernard le Coq) after the deaths of both her husband and his wife in a car crash. Step-siblings Francois (Benoit Magimel) and Michele (Melanie Doutey) and their elderly Tante Line (Suzanne Flon) flesh out the rest of this bourgeois brood.

    The film's opening shot of a dead body underscored with a French song about love and memory should set the scene, but the murder is almost an after thought for Chabrol. He seems more interested in letting the family's skeletons out of various closets as Francois (who ran away from his strong feelings for Michele — they're first cousins) returns to the family manse after a three-year sojourn in Chicago.

    Far too much dinner conversation feeds the clichˇ comparison of the Gallic repast to the "swill" Francois must have eaten and drunk in America. But we also learn of Anne's political aspirations as her admiring running mate (Chabrol's rather stiff son, Thomas) delivers a letter with more exposition than a Danielle Steel sentence. It contains family secrets on both sides, from Nazi sympathizers during the Vichy regime and a suspected patricide to insinuations about the legitimacy of Anne and Gerard's marriage and accusations about Gerard's philandering.

    The semi-incestuous relationship between the hunky Francois and the nubile Michele unfolds before the watchful eyes of Tante Line — who is the putative heroine of the piece. The remarkable 85-year-old Flon (who resembles famed American character actress Mildred Dunnock) caps a 40-year film career with her portrayal of a woman whose very existence depends on lies. Given the lyrics of that opening song, it's possible that "Fleur..." is also meant to serve as a meditation on living a long life as embodied by Flon, who is Chabrol's age.

    Unlike "La Cˇrˇmonie," his far more successful murderous foray among the petit bourgeoisie or the less successful (but still better) "Merci Pour Le Chocolat," "Flower of Evil" has a choppy feel — is it a mystery, a domestic incest drama or an homage to Hitchcock's "The Trouble with Harry." (Without spoiling or divulging more plot, there's a scene with Tante Line, Michele and the corpse, that's meant to be funny but isn't.)

    Both "La Cˇrˇmonie" and "Merci Pour Le Chocolat were adapted from novels — the former by Ruth Rendell and the latter by Charlotte Armstrong — and that literary fact may hold a key to their success.

    Although he co-founded Cahiers du Cinˇma with fellow critics-turned-filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, Fran¨ois Truffaut and Eric Rohmer (with whom he co-wrote a study of his idol, Alfred Hitchcock), it's the film's story that falls short.

    Unable to successfully encompass all of its disparate themes, Chabrol's whole is ultimately far less than the sum of its parts.

    OCTOBER 14, 2003

    Reader comments on The Flower of Evil:

  • it is not bad   from Lori, Mar 13, 2004
  • La Fleur du Bon   from hawley, Feb 25, 2005

  • Post a comment on "The Flower of Evil"