Funnily, The Flower of Evil (La Fleur du mal, 2003) was the first Chabrol-Magimel film I watched on my 60-inch TV. I streamed two of their collaborations on my laptop.
Thank goodness for the bigger screen this time because the movie tells quite a complicated family mystery. I needed all the little clues magnified.
It starts with the camera passing through a dimly lit house, glancing at a nameless girl curled up at the corner and stops at a blooded dead man.
To solve the crime, we are introduced to the three generations of a prestigious family in a small French town. There is Aunt Line, who bears the horror of her murdered brother’s WWII Nazi connection, as the hands-off but observant benign secrets holder of the family. There are Anne (Aunt Line’s niece) and Gérard who got married after their former spouses died in a car accident together. Busy with their separate lives, she is actively running for mayor while he manages a pharmacy, cheats around and shows a growing contempt for his wife’s political ambitions. And then there is the taboo love affair between the unrelated step siblings François and Michèle. Son of Gérard and daughter of Anne, they have been attracted to each other since teenagers and find themselves still in love after spending some years apart.
The hidden tension behind the seemingly peaceful family is first triggered by the distribution of a malign, anonymous flier that revisits the scandalous murder of Anne’s Nazi-related father. Aimed to harm her mayoral campaign, it recounts the rumor that her father might have been killed by his own wife. Although there is no clear evidence, Gérard is suspected to be the mastermind of the scheme.
As if the man is not evil enough, a drunk Gérard then tries to violate his step daughter and is accidentally killed when Michèle attempts to protect herself with a lamp. Just like that, the family is cursed with a second murder. The matriarch of the family, Aunt Line, is determined to to take the blame for the accident. In her mind, it’s better to contain the stain in her generation than passing it on.
While we see the police cars arriving at the crime scene, it’s never shown what happens next. But that doesn’t seem to matter anymore. We have solved the big mystery shown in the very beginning of the film.
The plot is all too familiar in all of Chabrol’s films: poking fun of the bourgeoisie and their somehow laughable being. It’s such an easy subject for the filmmaker that the movie doesn’t feel too substantial. It flies through the family nuances very carelessly and you have to pay extra attention to link the little hints of past drama together. I cannot tell if the director does it on purpose or if he is just pressing the story on too impatiently.
Although Magimel is charming and handsome as always in the movie, his character is not fully developed. We see François, who just moved back from Chicago days before all the happenings, make fun of the Christian tradition of America, looks down on his slimy father, stifled by the dark family history and smitten with his sweet step sister. But I can’t find a specific word to describe the cynical son, except that he’s a bit of a reluctant victim of it all.
While the film is not a strong thriller or drama, I still kind of enjoyed it. It’s like reading a plain yet candid family diary convoluted enough to keep you interested. I suppose the movie poster, i.e. the family portrait, best summarizes the characters. From far away they are a picture-perfect bunch. In a close range, an ominous cloud of guilt is visible on the youngest generation François and Michèle who will have to carry the secret and burden of two family murders for decades to come.
Ay, what a mess, as Chabrol might say of the funny bourgeoisie.
Image from IMDb.