The Home Stretch: Marie-Christine Barrault in Cousin cousine

(the 14th of the 25 remaining Best Actress nominees!)

MARIE-CHRISTINE BARRAULT IN COUSIN COUSINE (1976)

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The competition (Cliff: 5 for 5!)

Faye Dunaway in Network

Talia Shire in Rocky

Sissy Spacek in Carrie

Liv Ullmann in Face to Face

Cousin cousine is a French social satire, built around an extended family and their crazy antics.  At the heart of it is the most scandalous element, involving the two most sensible characters: Marie-Christine’s beautiful young secretary, and her cousin by marriage.  The marriage that starts the film introduces us to the raucous family: the opening scene introduces us to a host of rowdy characters of all ages, acting out bawdy jokes and engaged in sexual shenanigans under the table and behind bedroom doors, before it settles on Marie-Christine leaning against the wall of the dance floor, watching the proceedings with an amused smile.  That she strikes up an easy conversation with a distant cousin (Victor Lanoux) only makes sense, as they’re by far the only characters with anything sane to say to one another.  The romance that grows between them, consisting mostly of free-flowing conversation and loving gazes, seems perfectly natural when surrounded by the shameless hijinks of the self-absorbed family: fisticuffs at a second wedding, phone calls and petty distractions at the patriarch’s funeral.  Their relationship seems so matter of fact, which of course is the moral (and social critique) of this satire. Without subtitles (and I was glad I had them), this would be the ideal two-lovers-meet romantic comedy, and it’s impossible not gravitate toward them and away from the truthfully harmless social barriers that stand in their way.

I appreciated Marie-Christine in this film, especially her relaxed, charmante demeanor around even the most trying of characters.  The family, of course, is scandalized by her budding romance, and her husband (who was canoodling with her cousin’s spouse at the film’s beginning) tries to fight for her.  She accepts it all with grace, wrapped in the comfort of her love and buoyed by a jaunty musical theme that carries the whole farce along in a happy mood.  I can’t say that this performance particularly stood out in this year, and I’m still inclined to give the award to Faye Dunaway in Network for her far more acerbic performance.  Still, this was a diverting French comedy, and an endearing performance.

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