A Girl Cut In Two Movie Review
Chabrol, who also co-wrote the script with Cécile Maistre, based his story in some measure upon the sensational case of famous architect Stanford White's murder at Madison Square Garden's rooftop theater in 1906. A classic "murder of the century" case, the White murder had a plethora of salacious details for titillation, a number of which Chabrol cannily appropriates for his own scenario. Set in the present day in Lyon, A Girl Cut in Two seems at first like another portrait of an ennui-cloaked artiste, whose fame and fortune no longer excites him. Charles Saint-Denis (François Berléand, excellent in his understatement here just as he was in Tell No One) is an aging novelist of incomparable fame living the perfect life. He lives on a beautiful estate, is feted for his work almost nonstop, has a wife who doesn't appear to notice or care about his habitual flirting, and the money to do essentially whatever he wants. Being a famous novelist on the prowl, it doesn't take long for Saint-Denis to zero in on one of Lyon's most attractive single females, the quite young and innocently beautiful Gabrielle Deneige (Ludivine Sagnier).
While Deneige, who lives at home with her eminently sensible and disapproving mother, is falling desperately in love with the much older Saint-Denis (who's something of an arrogant buffoon, in addition to being a first-degree manipulator of the impressionable young), she's also being pursued by a man her own age. Looking like a Gallic Jude Law who's been on a months-long bender, Paul Gaudens (Benoît Magimel, marvelously dissolute) is the scion of a local pharmaceutical fortune, as bored as he is wealthy. A snake-like avatar of louche misbehavior, Gaudens is all pout and preen, lazing about in tight-fitting velvet coats and tearing up the town in his zippy sports car when he's not scheming how to make Deneige his.
In no particular hurry to move his story to its conclusion, Chabrol takes his time limning the attractions and manias in this eminently tasteful little love triangle, and provides plenty of entertainment along the way. Sagnier's beauty is played to maximum effect (she looks here like a fresh-faced and younger Penelope Ann Miller), as is her oddly innocent inexperience. When Saint-Denis decides to educate her in the darker mysteries of desire (a point at which the film skirts and narrowly avoids ludicrousness), she's emotively torn between her desire for love and an approving father figure, and left emotionally broken between the two. Having Gaudens (who's as used to getting what he wants as is Saint-Denis) leap impetuously into this fragile relationship has an affectingly bull-in-the-china-shop effect.
Once Chabrol starts trying to tie his story together, however, the briefly intoxicating mist of desire, jealousy, and rampant wealth dissipates quite quickly. Although this was most likely the desired effect, blowing away the naïve attitudes held by his characters and showing them the results of their actions, it doesn't necessarily make for a coherent or affecting story. Although A Girl Cut in Two does come with an initially heady and alcoholic kick, that proves to be a fleeting impression. Once viewers are done with Chabrol's cannily crafted but fleeting film, its effects are quite easily tossed off; no worries about hangovers here.
Aka La Fille coupée en deux, A Girl Cut in Half.
That'd be the top half.