After a frustrating series of hits (LA CEREMONIE), misses (RIEN NE VA PLUS) and in-betweens (MERCI POUR LE CHOCOLAT), Claude Chabrol returned to fine form with this cool mystery about the skeletons that tumble from a venerable French family's closet when a small-town election turns ugly. The film opens with a masterful tracking shot: The camera crosses the lawn of a stately country house in the Bordeaux region of France, slips through the front door and creeps up the stairs. In one bedroom, a dazed young woman sits on the floor; in the next, a dead body lies sprawled by the bed. Just how things came to this bloody pass becomes clear as the film replays the events of the past few days. The house belongs to Line Charpin (Suzanne Flon), elderly matriarch of a wealthy family that once owned extensive vineyards but whose name is besmirched by scandal. Line's father, Pierre Charpin, collaborated with the Nazis during the occupation, and did nothing to save his son, resistance-fighter Francois, from execution. Pierre's subsequent murder was blamed on gentle Line, whom people supposed killed her father to avenge Francois's death. Line was acquitted, but it seems a curse has since befallen the Charpin family. Line's sister, Marie-Jeanne, and her husband, Louis Vasseur, died in a plane crash. Their daughter, Anne (Nathalie Baye), married first her cousin, Jean-Pierre Vasseur, then his brother, Gerard (Bernard Le Coq), after Jeanne-Pierre and Gerard's wife were killed together in a car accident. Everything comes to the surface when Anne's bid to become the town's next mayor prompts someone to distribute a nasty, unsigned flier detailing the dishonor that's tainted the Charpin family for three generations. Meanwhile, Anne's son, Matthieu Charpin-Vasseur (Thomas Chabrol), has returned from a four-year stay in Chicago; true to Charpin-Vasseur tradition, Matthieu fell in love with Gerard's daughter, Michele Vasseur (Melanie Doutey), and fled to America to escape the family influence. But now Matthieu's back in the bosom of his loving family, and history seems about to repeat itself — in more ways than one. For all its respectable surfaces, Chabrol's film seethes with murder, suggestions of incest and genteel corruption that's rotted the foundations of the Charpin-Vasseur family from the inside out. No one can quite capture that decay — the guilty conscience that can freeze the blood of even the most reputable of France's bourgeois families — better than Chabrol, and this the master at his best.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: NR
- Review: After a frustrating series of hits (LA CEREMONIE), misses (RIEN NE VA PLUS) and in-betweens (MERCI POUR LE CHOCOLAT), Claude Chabrol returned to fine form with this cool mystery about the skeletons that tumble from a venerable French family's closet when a… (more)