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Palm Pictures presents
The Flower of Evil (La Fleur du mal) (2002)

"We all have our weaknesses."
- Michele (Melanie Doutey)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: June 16, 2004

Stars: Nathalie Baye, Benoit Magimel, Suzanne Flon, Melanie Doutey, Bernad Le Coq
Other Stars: Thomas Chabrol
Director: Claude Chabrol

Manufacturer: Blink Digital
MPAA Rating: R for (brief language)
Run Time: 01h:40m:56s
Release Date: April 20, 2004
UPC: 031398119647
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B C+BB- C+

DVD Review

The Flower of Evil, released in 2002, was something like the 50th film from director Claude Chabrol, certainly a milestone of sorts, and as one of the founding fathers of the French New Wave he is definitely held in high regard by members of the art house crowd. The cover blurb for this particular title refers to Chabrol as "the master of suspense", and while his earlier works do tend to fall along those lines, The Flower of Evil is more of a mildly perverse character study that does include a murder, but ultimately finds itself more concerned with the dysfunctional functions of a pair of rather well-to-do French families who are intertwined by marriage.

At the top of this particular twisted heap of emotional baggage paraded out by Chabrol we have Gérard Vasseur (Bernard Le Coq), the patriarch with the wandering eye, who long ago married Anne Charpin (Nathalie Baye), a determined woman with an eye on local political office. Gérard's twenty-something son is the quiet François (Benoît Magimel), who, as the film opens, has just returned home to the French countryside after spending four years studying in America. Anne's twenty-something daughter is the demure Michèle (Mélanie Doutey), a brainy psychology student, and the fact that step-relations Mélanie and François have a longstanding and smoldering sexual attraction to each other does not seem to phase anyone in the slightest. Least of all kindly and aging Aunt Line (Suzanne Flon), who is the elderly Charpin connection to a Nazi-tinged past.

Chabrol opens with a wonderfully slow tracking shot that begins in a garden, leading into an elegant country home, past the dining room and slowly up the stairs, through a long hallway before we come across what is most certainly a dead body. For the sake of the story, narrative timelines become fuzzy, so instead we are left to learn about the assorted bickering Vasseurs and Charpins, and the stiff on the carpet is left as either a flashback or flashforward—Chabrol holds his cards close to his chest, which is more than I can say for the backcover blurb, which reveals large chunks of the plot best left unsaid. Regardless, the chatty tale becomes laden in step-relations sleeping with each other, a married man sleeping with young women, mysterious leaflets with slanderous family history, and an old woman who hears voices from long ago in her head.

The elements are all there for a ripping good French pastoral suspense drama, but Chabrol seems content to allow his actors to have strong individual scenes, without the benefit of an overall plot that should be linking these small moments together. Instead, things tend to drift, moving into what seem to be side stories that just detract, rather than help the narrative.

The cast does an exemplary job with the tepid material, turning random scenes that often go nowhere into fairly compelling little vignettes that at times make The Flower of Evil seem much better than it really is. It is Suzanne Flon, as the aging Aunt Line, and Nathalie Baye's tough politico, Anne, who are especially effortless in their performances, though Benoît Magimel—who often is left to do little but fume about his father—and Mélanie Doutey—who could give Audrey Tautou a run for the money in the "ridiculously cute" department—do show off some finely restrained sexuality and innocence in their scenes together.

Make no mistake—the actors are all immensely watchable here, but as a suspense film it certainly takes too long to get to the final act, and as a traditional drama it sometimes wanders around the issue at hand, forgetting to advance the story.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen release from Palm has some beautiful moments (more so than bad), but it also has its share of imperfections, making this a rather flighty transfer in terms of consistency. Anything filmed outdoors or in brightly lit rooms looks radiant, with deep golden color, balanced by evenly rendered and natural fleshtones. Problems arise when the locale switches to darker settings, where black levels take on a decidedly muddy tone, which when compounded by some intermittent specking, makes for some major contrasts in image quality.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is provided by a pair of original French language tracks, available in either 5.1 Dolby Digital surround or 2.0 stereo. The surround track doesn't provide much in the way of any discernible rear channel activity, but the balance across the front speakers is pleasing, with distortion-free dialogue the order of the day.

The stereo track is noticeably flatter, but still presentable.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
Extras Review: Not much in the way of extras, aside from a "family tree" that not only shows the relationship between characters, but reveals the particular actor's (or Chabrol himself) filmography when clicked upon.

Also included is a photo gallery of 10 images, and a theatrical trailer for the American release that builds up the suspense element of the film to nearly ridiculous levels, and would have infuriated me if I had seen the trailer first, because it barely resembles the actual film.

The disc is cut into 18 chapters, and features optional English subtitles.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

While the performances here are all first rate, the main crux of the story seems to take forever to formulate.

The Flower of Evil is a woefully slow-moving tale, leaving in its wake small, scattered pockets of wonderful acting, but little in the way of Chabrol's typical bite.


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