Cousins, The (1959): Chabrol’s Stunning Second Feature Starring Jean Claude Brialy

Claude Chabrol’s second directorial feature, the impressively artistic and commercial film “The Cousins,” which he also produced and co-wrote (with Paul Gegauff) deals with the contrast and rivalry between two cousins studying law in Paris.

Charles (Gerard Blain) is a wide eyed innocent and timid guy from the provinces, whereas Paul  (Jean-Claude Brialy) is  a cynical, insensitive brute from the City. When the earnest Blain comes to stay with Brialy in Paris so that he can study at university, the big-city, decadent lad sets out to warp him and then defeat him in a love contest, when they both fall for the same girl, Florence (Juliette Mayniel).

The jealous Paul breaks the romance by seducing Florence, turning Charles into an inconsolable guy who now seeks refuge in literature (Balzac novels), hoping to achieve redemption after his final exam.

Ironically, despite hard work, Charles fails the exam, whereas his lazy cousin Paul gets the diploma.  Most of the proceedings are shot from the point of view of Charles, who in the end resorts to violence when he grabs Paul’s gun and places on bullet in it, but again he fails when he triggers the gun and the shot doesn’t fire.  From that point on, the rivalry escalates to a harrowing level, ending on an ironic note when the less expected cousin finds his death in a senseless act.

Clearly Chabrol delights in the decadence of the student life, in the same way that Fellini would delight a year later in portraying the decadent life of Rome’s bourgeoisie in “La Dolce Vita.”  At the time, a long party scene, received a lot of attention and was quite controversial—even for French audiences.  Production values, particularly Henri Decae’s sharp cinematography and Paul Mizraki’s moody score are original as well as impressive.

A darkly satirical and twisted examination of family relationships, Chabrol’s film is a seminal work of the French New Wave, which erupted into the international scene a year later with three major works: Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless,” Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows,” and Alain Resnais’ “Hiroshima, mon Amour.”

About Chabrol 

Born in 1930, Chabrol made his feature debut with the impressive “Bitter Reunion” (Le Beau Serge”), in 1958, which also stars Jean-Claude Brialy.  The film was followed within months by another internationally artistic and commercial triumph, “Les Cousins.”  Chabrol was the first among the quintet of French New Wave director to achieve fame and success, which was recognized with the Jean Vigo Prize and the Golden Bear Award at the 1959 Berlin Film Fest.



Running time: 112 Minutes