The Flower of Evil Movie Review

Cranking out a movie a year, Claude Chabrol is having a serious case of Woody Allen syndrome. The best thing Woody could do right now is take a break for a few years to recharge his batteries. As for Chabrol, he's been kicking around the same stately, even-handed, vaguely perverse thrillers for about 30 years (and none of his popular works ever got as good as his nasty 1969 psychodrama Le Boucher). He once again sets a moderately pleasing ambiance, in an upscale house in France's Bordeaux region, where a family keeps closely guarded secrets. As the secrets gradually come to light, one becomes aware that Chabrol is a mechanical storyteller more than an emotional one. One comes to doubt his economy of cinematic language as the last refuge of the detached and unemotional.

But The Flower of Evil remains pleasing to watch, mostly because of an attractive cast. Francois (Benoît Magimel) returns home to father Gérard (Bernard Le Coq) and stepmother Anne (Nathalie Baye). It's not long before he's set his eyes on stepsister Michèle (Mélanie Doutey), and they try to keep a lid on their boiling-over passions. They don't want skeletons coming out of the closet during Anne's mayoral campaign. But not everyone sees it that way: A telegram arrives with insidious content, and the family worries that more secrets will come out that will make their children's tête-à-tête seem minor in comparison. Enlisting their clever Aunt Line (a delightful Suzanne Flon), the children attempt to protect themselves and, if possible, cause trouble for the hateful, lustful, blandly disgusting Gérard.

Even as World War II Nazi collaboration finds its way into this mystery, The Flower of Evil lacks scope or depth. Chabrol enjoys his games, and clearly has the most fun when two characters drag a dead body up a set of stairs and nearly drop him back down once they've reached the top. Surrounding those indulgent moments is a character drama that doesn't reveal much about character, and a thriller that moves at a glacial pace. The privileged characters are unsympathetic not only because of their veiled nastiness (and their snooty obsession with all things American), but because they aren't interesting enough to merit Chabrol's lingering medium-shot observations.

Senior actress Suzanne Flon gives a pulse to The Flower of Evil, and she oesn't play Aunt Line with the spaced-out cheeriness that we've come to expect from grandmothers and great-aunts in the movies. ("Oh boy, do I have the munchies!" says the grandma after smoking a joint in the recent Mandy Moore flick, How to Deal.) Flon's respectable and pragmatic, has all the best one-liners, and still manages to infuse Aunt Line with something more than that stereotypical "old wise person" or "old person who tells it like it is." She has a bountiful youthfulness despite her small, wrinkled frame -- an attractive appeal that belies her years. Whenever she shows up in The Flower of Evil, she breathes vigor into Chabrol's otherwise aloof bit of worn-out gamesmanship.

Aka La fleur du mal. Reviewed as part of the 2003 New York Film Festival.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Producer :

Comments

The Flower of Evil Rating

" Grim "

Rating: NR, 2003

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