The Girl Cut In Two

The Girl Cut In Two

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

“Someone is going to shag the weathergirl,” says my other half after grumbling that the first five minutes of Claude Chabrol’s latest film to get a UK release aren’t very engaging. “They’re bound to, it’s French,” he adds before slinking off to his PlayStation lair.

Of course, he’s right. By the end of the film just about everyone will have had their way either physically or emotionally with ingénue Gabrielle Snow (Ludivine Sagnier). But The Girl Cut In Two – although loosely based on the real story of notorious 19th Century womanising architect Stanford White – is not so much concerned with sex as with dissecting the social mores of the old-money bourgeois and the new-money petit bourgeois. Along the way it takes a fierce look at age, gullibility and notions of perversion.

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Gabrielle is up-and-coming at the TV centre, with her lecherous boss eager to push the 23-year-old to greater heights. As pure and angelic as her name suggests, she attends a book signing at her mother’s shop, only for her path to cross that of two men. One is famed author Charles Saint-Denis (François Berléand) – a 50-year-old, long-married man – the other, Paul Gaudens (Benoît Magimel) - a spoiled, slightly unhinged and uber-riche pharmaceutical heir.

Initially, it’s the older man who wins her over – taking her to his pied-a-terre and promising to teach her some things… things that the audience will soon be thankful they are not privy to. Despite his patronising air and casual manner with her – on their first outing he buys her, at auction, a copy of Handbook Of Behaviour For Little Girls (“If you don’t like to read, you can look at the pictures”) – she is soon in thrall to him. But Paul is becoming obsessed with Gabrielle and as Charles begins to play with her emotions, she in turn opts to toy with those of Paul.

Chabrol is frequently described as “the French Alfred Hitchcock” and it’s true that, despite the relationship focus of the film, he retains a constant sense of mystery. Everyone’s intentions are ambiguous, their pasts murky and, like so many Hitchcock characters, one of the trio is – unbeknownst to us – wracked with guilt.

Talk is everything, with action hinted at the edges, as Chabrol's camera sidles off to look at a casually thrown book, or skates away from anything salacious - he's almost as prudish as the characters are decadent. His framing frequently features pairings or colour combinations that suggest two halves of a whole – such as an early scene in which two of the women in Charles’s life are deliberately dressed in the opposing colours of black and white. And he has the element of surprise, slipping in a thriller element of the plot at the moment you least expect it.

The performances are strong across the board, but particular mention must be made of Caroline Silhol, who is outstanding as the Gaudens matriarch, desperate to hold her family together and possessing more steel than all the other characters put together.

Is the fact that Gabrielle finds herself in a love triangle with this unlikely pair believable? Mais, non. But that is part of the point. This is a world where men pull the strings and she, in her gullibility, is happy to play the marionette. She is not the only one cut in two, however. Paul has a borderline split-personality, loving one moment, violent the next, while Charles, although seemingly in absolute control, finds even he cannot orchestrate everything.

Although it takes a while to hit its stride, this is a fiercely intelligent, adult satire which is damning through the use of subtle implication and innuendo that reward the patient.

Reviewed on: 22 May 2009
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A weathergirl becomes involved in a destructive love triangle.
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