Les Cousins (film)

Les Cousins is a 1959 French New Wave drama film directed by Claude Chabrol. It tells the story of two cousins, the decadent Paul and the naive Charles. Charles falls in love with Florence, one of Paul's friends. It won the Golden Bear at the 9th Berlin International Film Festival.[1]

Les Cousins
Film poster
Directed byClaude Chabrol
Produced byClaude Chabrol
Written byClaude Chabrol (story)
Paul Gégauff (dialogue)
StarringGérard Blain
Jean-Claude Brialy
Juliette Mayniel
Music byPaul Misraki
CinematographyHenri Decaë
Edited byJacques Gaillard
Distributed byLes Films Marceau (France)
Release date
  • 11 March 1959 (1959-03-11)
Running time
112 minutes


Paul, a dissolute, profligate and jaded Parisian, takes in his naïve, innocent and idealistic cousin Charles from the provinces who is something of a mama's boy while they both attend law school. Paul takes Charles to a club at which he meets the beautiful Florence, who has the reputation of being a slut because she has slept around with every man in Paul's circle of friends. She takes an interest in Charles, who knows nothing of her past, and he kisses and falls desperately in love with her.

Paul refuses to study for their law-school exam, cavalierly boasting that he is smart enough to pass it without opening a book, while Charles studies frantically for it in order to make sure that he will not disappoint his mother, to whom he writes daily. But one day, through a misunderstanding, two hours before Charles had told Florence to meet him outside the law school after his class, she comes to meet him at Paul's flat. The only ones there are Paul and Clovis, a thoroughly corrupt friend of Paul's who operates as a kind of hustler, pimp and purveyor of bizarre entertainments for Paul and his friends; Clovis has previously expressed to Florence his disapproval and resentment of her trying to break away from her past by pretending to Charles to be the virtuous maid she isn't. Clovis then lewdly proposes with insidiously lascivious suggestiveness to Florence that she have sex with Paul, to which she succumbs, and they adjourn to the bedroom, so that, by the time Charles comes home he discovers that the Florence he loves has given herself to Paul.

Paul, without studying at all, passes the law-school exam anyway, as he had predicted, but Charles, despite all his study, yet distraught and in an emotional turmoil over his loss of Florence to his cousin, flunks. Torn between a desire to kill Paul and to kill himself, Charles loads one of Paul's revolver pistols with a single bullet in one of its six chambers, spins the cylinder and pulls the trigger while pointing the gun at the sleeping Paul's head, only to hear just an empty click. Later, Paul, not realizing that the pistol has a bullet in it, points it playfully at Charles, whose panic-stricken gesticulations are not enough to dissuade Paul from pulling the trigger, thereby killing Charles. The doorbell rings and Paul goes to open it with the gun in his hand. The movie ends before Paul reaches the door.

Selected cast


Chabrol conceived The Cousins to be his first film, but the high production costs ($160,000) postponed the production until Le Beau Serge was finished.[2] The two films employed the same leads--Jean-Claude Brialy and Gérard Blain--but with their roles reversed. Brialy now played "the insider" and Blain -- "the outsider." It was the first film that Chabrol wrote in collaboration with Paul Gégauff.[3]


The film introduces a number of new elements which will soon be regarded as typically Chabrolian. It is set in a bourgeois milieu, and the overall style is self-consciously polished—making it closer to "cinema of quality" than the New Wave. There is also a typical ambiguity about the characters, the guileless Charles emerging as something of a prig, and Paul as a flawed but more complex and interesting character. Charles' guardian angel, an idealistic bookseller, is counterbalanced by Paul's companion, the malevolent Clovis.[3] The party scenes reveal "Chabrol's taste for the theatrical and flamboyant."[4] The unwitting murder in the end is apparently inspired by "the theme of the exchange of guilt which Chabrol and Rohmer analysed in Hitchcock."[4]


The film won the Golden Bear at the 9th Berlin International Film Festival. It had 1,816,407 admissions in France and was Chabrol's second most popular film in his career.[5]

Bosley Crowther commented in The New York Times that "Chabrol has more skill with the camera than he has with the pen, and his picture is more credible to the eye than it is to the skeptical mind. But it is not the less overwhelming, and it is beautifully played by much the same cast that performed for him in Le Beau Serge."[6] Variety said that "director Chabrol has gone in for a little too much symbolism. The characters sometimes remain murky and too literary rather than real form. But a concisive progression, fine technical aspects, and a look at innocence destroyed by the profane keeps it absorbing despite the slightly pretentious treatment at times."[7] Time called it "a fairly clever, mildly depressing study of France's I-got-it-beat generation."[8] Pauline Kael wrote: "The Cousins, more than any other film I can think of, deserves to be called The Lost Generation, with all the glamour and romance, the easy sophistication and quick desperation that the title suggests."[9] TV Guide called it "a major film of the French New Wave that provides a grim, clear-eyed look at the cynicism of youth, this is not to be missed."[10]

See also


  1. "Berlinale: Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved 2010-01-10.
  2. Slide, Anthony. (1987). Fifty classic French films : 1912-1982 : a pictorial record. Dover Publications. ISBN 0486252566. OCLC 450686921.
  3. Wakeman, John (1987–1988). World film directors: Volume Two 1945-1985. H.W. Wilson. ISBN 0824207572. OCLC 16925324.CS1 maint: date format (link)
  4. Armes, Roy (1985). French cinema. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 177. OCLC 456494962.
  5. "Claude Chabrol - JPBox-Office". jpbox-office.com. Retrieved 2019-09-21.
  6. Crowther, Bosley (1959-11-24). "Screen: 'The Cousins'; French Import Is a Gloomy Portrait". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-09-21.
  7. Moskowitz, Gene (1959-02-24). "Les Cousins". Variety.
  8. "The Cousins - Review". Time. 1960-01-25.
  9. "MoMA | Claude Chabrol's The Cousins". www.moma.org. Retrieved 2019-09-21.
  10. "The Cousins | TV Guide". TVGuide.com. Retrieved 2019-09-22.
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