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FLOWER OF EVIL, THE (La Fleur Du Mal)(director/writer: Claude Chabrol; screenwriters: story by Caroline Eliacheff/Caroline Eliacheff/Louise L. Lambrichs; cinematographer: Eduardo Serra; editor: Monique Fardoulis; music: Matthieu Chabrol; cast: Nathalie Baye (Anne), Benoît Magimel (François), Suzanne Flon (Tante Line), Bernard Le Coq (Gérard), Mélanie Doutey (Michèle), Thomas Chabrol (Matthieu); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Marin Karmitz; Palm Pictures; 2003-France-in French with English subtitles)
“An unsatisfying payoff.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The 72-year-old Claude Chabrol’s fiftieth film in his noteworthy career gets its title from French poet Charles Baudelaire’s acclaimed poem. It is an efficiently made, well-acted, but insipidly cerebral psychological drama about the aristocratic Charpin-Vasseur bourgeois family and their disturbing secrets. What it lacks is a warmth for most of the self-absorbed characters, though the exception being Suzanne Flon in her cantankerous role as the embracing Aunt Line–the keeper of the family secrets. It also pales because of an unsatisfying payoff, where a speech is lazily used to explain how a murder is resolved (Chabrol shows no concern about the murder). “Flower” is based on a story by child psychologist Caroline Eliacheff, who successfully teamed with Chabrol on The Ceremony and Merci pour le chocolat. The script is also cowritten by Chabrol, Eliacheff and Louise L. Lambrichs.

François (Benoit Magimel) is a handsome twentysomething just returning to his hometown of Glignac in the Bordeaux region after four years of practicing law in Chicago. His wealthy and suave womanizing pharmacist father Gérard Vasseur (Bernard Le Coq) drives him home from the airport, as their conversation is strained by an undisclosed tension which will later on be disclosed. François comments that nothing has seemed to change but soon learns that one of the big changes in the family is that his stepmother Anne Charpin-Vasseur (Nathalie Baye) has become increasingly ambitious in politics and is trying to advance her town councilor position by running for mayor. She’s being helped by her loyal running mate, Matthieu (Thomas Chabrol), whom she spends long hours with campaigning. There’s one unnerving sketch where they campaign together in a low-rent housing development and are made to feel out of place.

The family dwells in the residence of the elderly and frail Aunt Line, who prepares an elaborate meal of lampreys to celebrate François’s homecoming. The only one in the family François is most anxious to see is his attractive cousin and step-sibling Michèle (Mélanie Doutey), a psychology major college student. Michele’s real father and François’ real mother both died in the same car accident in the 1980s, afterwards Anne and Gérard married each other. It’s also revealed that after Anne’s parents perished in a plane crash, she was raised by Aunt Line. Adding to the family’s dark and secretive past is that incident of Aunt Line’s beloved older brother working with the Resistance when given away by her collaborator father and subsequently executed by the Nazis, something she never forgave him for. It’s also revealed that Aunt Line was suspected of killing her Nazi-sympathizer father but never stood trial.

The cousins are secret sweethearts, who have not yet consummated their forbidden love for each other. It turns out that the reason François went to America was to avoid the inevitable attraction he has for his cousin. Once reunited Michèle makes it plain she has the same strong feelings for him and they decide to escape together to be alone in Aunt Line’s luxurious summer house in Pyla for the weekend, as the aunt sympathetically understands their need to be alone and gives them the keys to her home without asking questions.

Gérard is strongly against Anne’s political ambitions, and reacts with more bitterness when anonymously written slanderous leaflets are distributed reminding voters of the poisoned family history. Michèle and François suspect without having proof that Gérard is behind the leaflets, and are working up enough courage to confront him.

On election night, there is a murder that haunts the family once again and this bad karma continues their need for messy secrets, deceptions and hypocrisies.

Chabrol has stated that Aunt Line’s father stands for Maurice Papon, the Vichy government official who oversaw the deportation of at least 1,600 French Jews from Bordeaux to Auschwitz in 1942-44.

In “Flowers” Chabrol was more interested in revealing dirty secrets and throwing mild barbs at the local election process in France rather than in telling a good thriller or exploring the psychological aspects of the family drama or dropping any significant observations about America other than to say the obvious–Americans are not as dumb as they let on and they are obsessed with God and money.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”