Review: Cousin, Cousine

[Originally published in Movietone News 53, January 1977]

Children are scolded it’s a “solemn occasion” that they’re travelling to: Tacchella cuts to their grandmother the bride chugging beer at her wedding reception and then to the grandchildren seated behind their own rose-colored soft drinks. Bridegroom Gobert’s pants go down at the peak of the celebration, and “Cousin” Ludovie’s wife Kanne’s skirt goes up to reveal motorcycle-riding underwear as the focal couples’ reunion with their spouses signals the festivity’s end. “Cousine” Marthe’s husband Pascal ends a string of affairs in relief against a background of brown purses, then white pharmaceuticals, then an environmentally complementary family-planning clinic where the rhythm of the philanderer’s new-leaf-turning montage is interrupted and altered to comic effect. Such cutting, color, contrasts and expectation thwartings are the subtext upon which Cousin, Cousine’s more obvious charms of character and situation rest.

During the early, platonic phase of their relationship, Marthe and Ludovic gorge on pastries and sound out their serendipitacious situation against a background of tinsely , Christmas-suggestive colors that not only links up in attractive contrast to the butcher-red supermarket where Marthe and Pascal play their more prosaic relationship in the scene immediately following, but comes to mind resonantly in the final sequence when accommodation of all the film’s relationships is achieved against a true Christmas palette. To that conclusion. Gobert’s presence as a valued life-force is felt beyond his brief but flamboyant onscreen life: digging a swimming pool “for next summer” with one of those grandchildren through whose eyes Tacchella directs us to see much of the film’s positive family ritual; dying probably at least in part from that same patriarchally visionary labor while being immortalized via Ludovic’s daughter’s slideshow of his wedding-reception b.a.; surviving—again photographically—in the black-and-white snaps that surround Grandmother after we’ve forgotten about her for some screentime; surviving in spirit in Marthe and Ludovic’s frequent swims; and surviving also in the presence of his half-brother, whose not-unpleasant task from the funeral scene onward is to approximate that element of group-infectious gusto that Gobert initially figured. The funeral itself is never colored as blackly as it could have been: bright colors and comic asides vie for our attention against the fact of death while the half-brother laments reminiscently that funerals used to be good for a whole day off.

Color is unobtrusively crucial in Cousin, Cousine. The color purple guides us through stages of Marthe and Ludovic’s relationship: Marthe rejects Pascal’s purple making-up gift scarf for Ludovic’s dance-studio purple work shirt; a similar scarf is wrapped around the concierge who guides them to the room where they first make love; and they comically stigmatize themselves with the purple tattoo-pen they thought they could wash off. Those Christmas colors and their associations are persuasive enough as a motif to substitute for the lovers’ felt but largely offscreen presence in the final holiday sequence. As Marthe and Ludovic bid the family adieu and prepare to go off together, holiday-gowned Karine can even quell an embryonically aggressive movement from the elsewhere successfully aggressive Pascal. “You need to take time for adventure, even if it’s only an hour a day,” Ludovic instructs Marthe during one of their early meetings, and the texture and tranquility of Cousin, Cousine’s structural details, like its supportive family milieu, are a richly fecund setting for the behavioral possibilities the film explores.

COUSIN, COUSINE
Screenplay and direction: Jean-Charles Tacchella. Cinematography: Georges Lendi. Editing: Agnès Guillemot. Music: Gérard Anfosso.
The players: Marie-Christine Barrault, Victor Lanoux, Marie-France Pisier, Guy Marchand, Catherine Verlor.

© 1977 Greg Way

A pdf of the original issue can be found here