The Austin Chronicle

A Girl Cut in Two

Not rated, 115 min. Directed by Claude Chabrol. Starring Ludivine Sagnier, Benoît Magimel, François Berléand, Mathilda May, Caroline Sihol, Marie Bunel.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Dec. 12, 2008

In his invaluable (if sometimes insufferable) The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, David Thomson speaks of Chabrol’s “resort to murder rather than life, melodrama rather than the everyday.” Now an elder statesman of French cinema, his New Wave kicks long behind him, Chabrol was first a Cahiers du Cinema critic who co-authored (with Eric Rohmer) a book on Alfred Hitchcock. It’s no surprise then that someone hip to Hitch at a formative age would bear the mark of murder and melodrama for the rest of his life. His latest film – his 51st! – boasts a little bit of the former and a lot of the latter in its tale of the downfall of a cheery, open-faced weathergirl in Lyons named Gabrielle Deneige (Sagnier). With Sagnier's angel face and a last name that means “snow,” the character is practically bound by movie law to be defiled in some awful manner. Enter, at more or less the same time, two very different suitors: Charles (Berléand), a wealthy, worldly author 30 years her senior, and Paul (Magimel), the more age-appropriate but visibly unhinged heir to a pharmaceuticals company. While somewhat pitched as a suspenser, A Girl Cut in Two is Hitchcock sans the whodunit, essentially a long preamble of seduction and spiritual ruin, capped by a crime everyone saw coming (and an eye-dazzling coda that twists the title from metaphor to … something else). The script (co-written by Chabrol with his stepdaughter, Cécile Maistre) was inspired by a notorious love triangle involving Gilded Age architect Stanford White; while Chabrol and Maistre update the case to contemporary Lyons, there’s a certain not unenjoyable out-of-timeness to A Girl Cut in Two, with its arctic chill of the upper class and a prominent gentleman’s club at which Chivas is sipped and scandalous acts take place behind closed doors. Chabrol never tips open the door – he keeps his camera at a cool remove – but we know enough to know it’s not the kind of place you take a nice, middle-class weathergirl. The thing about nice, middle-class weathergirls, though, is that they're not all that interesting. Her breathtaking, almost childlike beauty aside, Sagnier doesn't have anywhere to go but a degrading down with her helpless naif of a heroine (tell me: Do people really still take to bed after a love affair’s gone south?). The surprise showstopper comes by way of a small, indelible turn by Sihol, as Paul's deliciously monstrous mother. Forget all Gabrielle's weeping and wailing over love; you wanna see real, hair-pulling passion? Just watch the upper class' mad scramble to keep everyone in her place.

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