Movie Review: A Girl Cut in Two
By Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
Seventy-eight-year-old Claude Chabrol, who has directed features for 50 years, has enough of an ego to make the famous novelist at the center of his pungent and altogether delicious black comedy "A Girl Cut in Two" irresistible to women. "The bastard hasn't lost it," marvels his publisher, played as a purring, all-knowing observer - with an undisclosed amount of inside knowledge - by Mathilda May.
Chabrol hasn't lost it either. This Lyon, France-set tale of a TV weather girl and two wolfish suitors is a cool marvel of tone, acted about as well as it possibly could be. The story isn't a mystery by narrative definition, yet Chabrol's longtime mastery of the mystery genre comes in very handy as he sets up his characters like figures in a boulevard comedy, only to reveal their darker impulses gradually, in surprising little splinters. The technique is deft, crisp and confident, backed by a wry musical score written by Chabrol's son, Matthieu. And if you choose to watch "A Girl Cut in Two" primarily as an affair between an emotionally dodgy man and a woman nearly 30 years his junior, it's a lot more interesting and, in its chilly way, honest, than "Elegy."
Gabrielle Deneige is the weather girl, whose last name translates to snow - "a predestined name," as one of her admiring colleagues comments. As played by Ludivine Sagnier, she lives in a seemingly happy fog of perpetual male attention. One night she meets the novelist, Charles, played by Francois Berleand. Soon he finds himself at the TV studio appearing on a vapid interview program. An affair blossoms, though the novelist wants to keep things neatly compartmentalized, so that life in the French countryside with his wife - "a saint," as he keeps telling her, and everyone else - and his friend/publisher/question mark continues as usual.
Chabrol and co-writer Cecile Maistre introduce their array of characters with fabulous swiftness and economy. Gabrielle has another dog on her trail, the louche, hilariously smug mama's boy Paul (Benoit Magimel), who comes from money and whose jealousy knows no bounds. Chabrol based "A Girl Cut in Two" loosely on the early 20th century love triangle of Stanford White, Evelyn Nesbit and Harry K. Thaw, and that's all we should say about that.
Berleand conveys so much while expending so little: You see the charm and the calculation as well as the vague childish streak in every maneuver. Sagnier, who caught the eyes of millions in "The Swimming Pool," is playing a symbol of unformed, enticing young adulthood more than a three-dimensional character, yet a rounded and affecting characterization emerges. The sex throughout is discreet, and in the end we're confronted with one sort of depravity (having to do with a scandal in Paul's past) versus another (Charles' penchant for sex clubs). In facile terms, the movie links the two male leads with a mention of sexual molestation at the hands of authority figures in their respective pasts. Chabrol taps that notion into place, and moves on. Spectacularly assured, "A Girl Cut in Two" keeps you off-balance as it establishes a world where every conversation is a flirtation, and trouble and heartbreak sneak in on little cat feet when no one's looking.
No MPAA rating (parents cautioned for sexuality and some violence)
Running time: 1:50
Starring: Ludivine Sagnier (Gabrielle); Francois Berleand (Charles); Benoit Magimel (Paul); Mathilda May (Capucine); Valeria Cavalli (Dona)
Directed by: Claude Chabrol; written by Chabrol and Cecile Maistre; photographed by Eduardo Serra; edited by Monique Fardoulis; music by Matthieu Chabrol; produced by Patrick Godeau. An IFC Films release. In French with English subtitles.