Les Cousins Screen 6 articles

Les Cousins

1959

Les Cousins Poster
  • The last grim joke of Les cousins blooms, characteristically, at its very end: you realize, in the hushed final shots, that you’ve been watching a movie about two law students in a world whose laws are arbitrary, unknowable. The pessimism of this is so staggering that you can only laugh. Les cousins, hollow and profound, is a completely successful experiment. It’s the movie in which Claude Chabrol discovered his nature.

  • The film concludes with a shocking development that seems at first like a nasty non sequitur, but, upon reflection, proves to have been in the cards from the very beginning It's a filmmaking trick that costs nothing to execute—which is just one reason whyLes Cousins remains a model lesson for independent filmmakers.

  • Nice young country kid Charles (Gérard Blain) comes to the corrupt big city, where once of his first stops is a bookstore whose middle-aged proprietor instantly takes a shine to the young man looking for Balzac (an early dig at/nod to Truffaut?). Charles' new circle, he complains, only reads detective novels and porn... and gives him the book for free. That's an imaginative way to quickly suggest a temperamental generational split... in a movie whose intention is tantalizingly opaque.

  • The director flaunts the immoral implications of his cynicism: the riotous students in Paul’s circle exhibit a sybaritic and sexualized brutality that finds a political parallel in the Germanophile Paul’s obsession with firearms and Nazi paraphernalia, as well as a visual parallel in the brash and scathing flamboyance of the images. Here, the director tackles his great theme—the puncturing of bourgeois moralism, albeit at a price—with a joyful, quasi-Nietzschean derision.

  • The mercilessness of the filming is recognizably keyed to the Aldrich of The Big Knife, circular panning shots burnish the screen and frosted glass dividers splinter it. Chekov’s gun will not merely be fired but also turned into a literally loaded mechanism of Fate, a languid intensity accelerating toward a devastating negation.

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    Cahiers du cinéma: Jean-Luc Godard
    November 1958 | Godard on Godard (pp. 98-99)

    You will not find Paul, Florence or Charles cheating on themselves. They are great souls. They love poker. But they know that the only way to bluff is still to tell the whole truth. Charles, moreover, will die as a result, for Paul has read in Cocteau just how far he has the right to go too far. Les Cousins, in short, will be an engaging film which will disengage you from worldly considerations, a false film which will offer its home truths, a deeply hollow and therefore profound film.