A few years ago, when French New Wave director Claude Chabrol contemplated making a film about a young woman, his powers of association accessed a quote from the 1955 Richard Fleischer film, The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing : “I just killed the man who perverted my wife.” I’ve long been a fan of Chabrol, whose 50-year/60-film career with gripping works such as Les Biches, Le Boucher, Violette Nozière, L’Enfer and La Cérémonie defines him as a quintessential master—in the Hitchcock mode—of the mystery genre. Although A Girl Cut in Two lacks the taut storytelling of his earlier films, Chabrol fans in the States and in Europe are legion, so at least a modest success is assured.
Fleischer’s film was loosely based on the sensational Gilded Age shooting of the New York architect Stanford White by a Pittsburgh tycoon jealous of White’s affair with the legendary beauty, chorus girl Evelyn Nesbitt. In other words, this revisits the classic triangle comprised of two guys and a girl, the epitome of which is Truffaut’s Jules et Jim. Chabrol’s updated version features a jaded novelist, Charles Saint-Denis (François Berléand); a gorgeous weather forecaster half his age, Gabrielle Deneige (Ludivine Sagnier); and young Paul Gaudens (Benoit Magimel), the arrogant and irresponsible son of a distinguished family that has made a fortune in the pharmaceutical business.
Chabrol places his constellation of characters against the backdrop of the publishing, television and pharmaceutical industries—and skewers the pretensions of all three. Gabrielle works at a TV station in Lyons and—like her counterpart Nicole Kidman in To Die For —hopes to go on to bigger and better things in the media world. She meets the successful Charles at her mother Marie’s (Marie Bunel) bookstore and falls for the charmer, even though she knows he’s married. Charles and his long-suffering wife (Valeria Cavalli), who has tolerated his indiscretions for 25 years, fled Paris and the overwhelming publicity that literary fame brought with it, and now the couple lives in a trés moderne home in the glorious countryside outside Lyon. Charles seduces a willing Gabrielle at his minimally furnished city pied-à-terre. But, later, when he seems to lose interest, the conniving girl agrees to marry the bizarrely unstable Paul. Thus, the fatal love triangle is set in motion.
Co-written by Cécile Maistre, Chabrol’s frequent assistant director (and step daughter), the story hints at perversion, but other than Charles inexplicably dragging Gabrielle to a brothel, nothing much is revealed. Chabrol knows that one person’s perversion may be another’s comedy, so—much like Hitchcock before him—he allows viewers to project their own idea of perversion (or fright) onto the film. The early scenes effectively introduce the characters and successfully establish their conflicts. But this caustic social satire suffers from a surfeit of meaningless dialogue and a disjointed storyline. In the end, we care little about any of the primary characters or what happens to them.
Cast: Ludivine Sagnier, Francois Berléand, Benoît Magimel, Mathilda May, Caroline Sihol, Etienne Chicot, Marie Bunel, Valeria Cavalli and Thomas Chabrol
Director: Claude Chabrol
Screenwriters: Claude Chabrol & Cécile Maistre
Producers: Francoise Galfre and Patrick Godeau
Running time: 115 min.
Release date: August 15 ltd.