The Girl Cut in Two
Although Chabrol is considered part of the French New Wave or Nouvelle Vague of the 60s, stylistically he displayed less of the cinematic flamboyance of Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut and instead leaned more towards subtlety and control. Instead of dazzling audiences with innovative editing and handheld camerawork, Chabrol often choose to challenge the established order by skewering the French petite bourgeoisie or by exploring relationships from a coolly detached position. The mood and tone of Chabrol's films are what makes them provocative. Such is the case again with The Girl Cut in Two.
Francois Berleand and Ludivine Sagnier in The Girl Cut in Two (IFC Films)
The girl of the title is TV weather girl Gabrielle Deneige (Ludivine Sagnier). She's smart, ambitious, and still lives at home with her mother. The title ends up taking on multiple meanings, but for much of the film, we see Gabrielle as torn between two very different men. There's successful writer Charles Saint-Denis (Francois Berleand) who arrives at the TV station for an interview, and Gabrielle becomes interested in him. The two strike up an affair but Charles seems unwilling to leave his devoted wife of 25 years. Then there's Paul Gaudens (Benoit Magimel delivering a performance you love to hate), a spoiled brat of an heir who likes to get things his way and is liable to throw a tantrum if he doesn't. He hates Charles and maybe that's the reason he's so obsessed with possessing Gabrielle.
This romantic triangle plays out like a Hitchcockian thriller. Chabrol builds tension and unease yet as a viewer you don't quite know why. Unlike Hollywood movies that often announce their intentions in the first 30 seconds and then play out predictably for the ensuing 90 minutes to 2 hours, Chabrol takes his time letting his story unfold. So you sense tension and danger but in a very undirected manner -- you're not sure who might be in danger or exactly what kind on danger it might be. But in the case of The Girl Cut in Two , Chabrol takes a little too much time with the build up and he delivers less of a pay off that you might hope for. The Girl Cut in Two is not as deliciously disturbed as his recent The Bridesmaid, Flower of Evil and Merci for the Chocolate , nor is it as carefully structured. But even a flawed Chabrol film boasts savage humor and sharp intelligence. Just as the title proves to have two meanings, Chabrol, who co-wrote the screenplay with his stepdaughter C ecile Maistre, plays with language to reveal multiple meanings of words or how easily things can get confused.
Benoit Magimelas as Paul in The Girl Cut in two (IFC Films)
Ludivine Sagnier (of Swimming Pool ) makes a luscious Gabrielle who works her charms on two very different men. But she is just one component of a constantly shifting power struggle between the three characters. She may bewitch the men but they end up holding her fate in their hands. Then each one takes a turn being a kind of victim. In this outing, Chabrol mixes his usual class conflicts with affairs of the heart to concoct a tense and often darkly comic romance with a kick.
The Girl Cut in Two (in French with English subtitles and unrated) is not as smartly conceived and packaged as Chabrol's best films but it still serves up some fine performances and twisted characters.
Companion viewing: The Bridesmaid, Merci for the Chocolate, Swimming Pool