BLOOD RELATIVES (Claude Chabrol, 1978)

A co-production of France and Canada, Blood Relatives (Les liens de sang) is set in Montreal. Adapted from an Ed McBain novel by Claude Chabrol and Sydney Banks, the plot involves a brutal murder crossing two overlapping circles of family incest. Chabrol directed.

The opening on a rain-soaked street at night, mysteriously, hauntingly in black and purple, depicts the slashing of two teenaged girls, cousins, on their way home from a party. The same color scheme reappears when the surviving cousin is led to the room at police headquarters where she is asked to identify from a lineup, if possible, the assailant who killed her cousin. Chabrol and color cinematographer Jean Rabier suggest that the survivor is thus compelled to relive the crime.

Chabrol’s police procedural is patient and cumulative, with the head detective’s reading of the murdered girl’s diary occasioning flashbacks of events leading up to the crime, interrupted—and grounded—by glimpses of the detective’s marriage and home life. The surviving cousin’s brother, with whom the deceased had an affair, becomes a suspect. A meeting with someone else ultimately occasions the flashback that gives us a full view of the crime.

Donald Sutherland, one of my least favorite actors, gives an uncharacteristically sensitive performance as Steve Carella, the thoughtful and intelligent detective; but St éphane Audran, a great actress, comes off poorly, dubbed flatly and emphatically into English, as the alcoholic aunt of the murdered girl.

The deceased, an orphan, lived under the same roof as her two cousins. With the camera withdrawing down a long, dark hallway, her voice is heard from her diary expressing her fear of the place.

However minor, this film is a knockout from start to finish, even if one correctly guesses “whodunit.” It is bewitching—and spooky.

 

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