David Hamilton – Tendres Cousines AKA Cousins In Love (1980)
Summer 1939 in the Provence, France: the 14 years old Julien has a crush on his cousin Julia, who lives together with his family in their small hotel. Unfortunately she ignores him, because she’s several years older. Then the hotel guest Charles enters the competition, a slimy twenty-something who lusts for the girl, despite the fact that he’s engaged.
Tendres Cousines starts with a monologue – a very long monologue – in which Julien (Thierry Tevini) introduces us to still images of the characters that we will meet over the course of the film. A lot of characters – some of them very minor – are introduced at this point, and too much information is dumped on the audience for anyone to take it all in. All you really need to know at this point is that everyone in this French country house fancies someone they shouldn’t.
And then we’re off.
This film is a bit of an oddity in that it tries to straddle several, not entirely complementary, genres. It’s essentially a sexploitation tinged coming of age story in which Julien and his cousin, Julia (Anja Schüte) discover their sexuality and their feelings for each other – as well as the rest of the household – against the background of a very pronounced class divide. While the middle class members of the two families are repressed, refined, frustrated and often predatory, the servants of the household are both raunchy and open and a lot more straightforward.
Of course, when hormonal teenagers find themselves in an environment packed with upfront shagging, there are opportunities for broad – very broad – humour, and the film does include some farcical scenes of the type that wouldn’t be out of place in a typical Carry On film. Apart from the explicit nudity, of course.
And, if this was all that the film had aspired to – a sexploitation comedy – I would have probably enjoyed it for what it was. However, watching this left me with the rather unfortunate impression that director David Hamilton would like us to take the film more seriously than it deserves.
The film is set in 1939, just before the outbreak of war, and we do have a few references to events going on in the wider world. But if this was a stab at injecting some drama into the film, it’s a rather half-hearted one and one that undermines both the comedy and sexploitation elements that make up the rest of the film.
The result is a film which, while being pretty to look at doesn’t really work as a film. It’s mildly titillating rather than erotic, silly rather than funny and pedestrian rather than dramatic.
David Hamilton is quite well regarded as a photographer and I don’t doubt that his soft-focus style works perfectly well on the page. Unfortunately, being a competent photographer doesn’t necessarily translate into an affinity for either character or narrative, as this film amply demonstrates.