Dir: Claude Chabrol
Claude Chabrol is amazing. Like Woody Allen he makes a film every year (and he’s been at it longer, 79 in June, he’s been making films since 1958 and his filmography, not counting TV work, numbers in the sixties) unlike Allen he hasn’t suffered a collapse of form, many of his later films – The Bridesmaid, Merci pour le Chocolat and La Ceremonie among them – can stand alongside his celebrated Helene cycle as some of his best work.
The Girl Cut in Two isn’t vintage Chabrol, but it’s still a film with many very strong elements. It surprises me that Chabrol, a great director of women and cinematic connoisseur of beauty hasn’t previously worked with Ludivine Sagnier, who has gone from being an extraordinarily lovely decoration in Francois Ozon films to become one of France’s most interesting young actresses. Here Sagnier plays Gabrielle, a TV weather girl who enchants two men, an author some 30 years her senior (Francois Berleand) and a young, unstable, heir (Benoit Magimel), both of whom fall for her the first time they see her, and whose mutual desire proves destructive. Rather than play this as he might have previously – as a thriller – Chabrol fashions a black and sometimes nasty comedy in which things simmer beneath the surface.
As you might expect of a man who has been making films for as long as Chabrol has, and has spent almost 25 years working with the same core crew, The Girl Cut in Two is technically flawless, it is wonderful to look at, from its costumes, make up and sets, to the way that Chabrol makes his entire cast look beautiful, to the smoothness of the camerawork and a few memorable shots (The red gelled opening and Sagnier, clad in a bustier with a peacock’s tail, crawling into a room come to mind).
Chabrol and Cecile Maistre’s screenplay deals with some quite heavy themes; love, jealousy, obsession, with a nice light touch and a sparkling wit that shows itself in almost every scene. The humor translates well, creating an interesting balance of tones that works in the film’s favour. Another nice touch is Chabrol and Maistre’s decision to keep one pivotal event (which I shan’t spoil), and all description of it, off screen, allowing our minds to fill in the details as we see them.
A distinguished cast all give strong performances. Sagnier’s performances are often overshadowed by her beauty (I met her before the screening, and can assure you that, yes, she is that beautiful), she’s entirely natural here, hardly appears to be acting at all, and yet never strikes a false note; a tough balance to achieve and she seems to do it effortlessly and, she said, with little direction. Benoit Magimel, so impressive opposite Chabrol’s latter day muse Isabelle Huppert in The Piano Teacher, also has tricky job. His is a more theatrical performance, as a character that seems to constantly be dancing on the edge of sanity; it could easily be grating, but Magimel finds the middle ground between funny and frightening, nailing the tone of the film. The last side of the central triangle; Francois Bereland is also impressive; giving a finely judged performance that shifts and plays with your sympathies.
Given all this quality its tough to put a finger on why The Girl Cut in Two doesn’t quite work. There is one large issue: the story doesn’t quite sustain the film’s 115 minute running time, and it runs off the rails in the last twenty minutes, which hardly feel like they belong to the same film. The real issue is harder to define though; it’s mainly that while all the individual elements are excellent they don’t quite gel into a coherent whole. Even if it’s not Chabrol’s best, The Girl Cut in Two is an interesting and engaging film despite its flaws.