26 August 2008

A Girl Cut in Two

Directed by: Claude Chabrol
Written by: Claude Chabrol & Cécile Maistre
Full credits at IMDb

Like his feature before last, The Bridesmaid, Chabrol’s latest, A Girl Cut in Two ( La Fille Coupée en Deux), sounds like a thriller on paper but plays out as anything but. (Also like his last two movies, it is a family affair, with multiple Chabrols popping up in the credits.) And while not quite a thriller, it’s not not a thriller, either. Loosely based on the 1906 murder of Stanford White, an eminent architect and philanderer shot by a jealous husband at Madison Square Garden (which White had ironically designed!), Girl concerns torrid murder, but it plays out only as low-boil love triangle intrigue. Make no mistake—that water will bubble eventually, but the only hint of the depravation and violence to come is the opening sequence, as the camera winds down French roads, filming through a blood-red filter. You could be forgiven for thinking you were watching Cabin Fever.

But in fact you are watching something far more French, and of far better quality, than anything by Eli Roth. Chabrol is a paragon of patience, more interested in fleshing things out than in moving things along or getting to the point (quel Americain!) because, for him, inching the characters along organically to where he needs them to be is the point. Chabrol acknowledges, and defends, the slow going in what would otherwise be a throwaway moment at a bookstore between customer and proprietor: the shop owner recommends a book; the patron declares, “I like action”; the owner replies, “there’s action,” but more importantly, she says—the book has style.

A Girl Cut in Two certainly has style, thankfully as the plot, about two men each seducing and discarding a loveable weathergirl, offers few surprises and simplistic psychology: all of the younger women are looking for father figures; the older men are looking for sexable nymphets. (Older women and younger men are consequently lonely.) There might be something objectionably Woody Allen about the film’s pairing of graying lotharios with women half their age, but Chabrol is not so vain; ultimately, he casts nearly every character in A Girl Cut in Two as a villain, save notably for the victimized young girl at its center. (This seems to me to be an allegory for modern France; I write more about that here.) Ultimately, Chabrol sides with neither of the film’s suitors, dismissing both as creeps and fools, making A Girl Cut in Two something of an empowerment flick: watch Sagnier used and abused by man after man, then stand up, still in a single piece and beaming to the rafters. You go, girl! (Or, Tu vais, mademoiselle?) Grade: B+

Watch the trailer:

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