A Girl Cut in Two

Oct 1, 2008 at 12:00 am

Though critics epeatedly compare octogenarian French director Claude Chabrol's work to Hitchcock, his latest film comes closer to emulating late-career Woody Allen. Much like Match Point, his film shares the same melodramatic themes of misguided love and class warfare amidst society's upper crust. But as strange as it is to say, it's actually Woody who lands closer to the Master, hustling his over-praised thriller along to its cynical conclusion. In contrast, Chabrol's A Girl Cut in Two, despite a refreshingly French view of sex, maddeningly meanders toward a punchline that's barely worth the wait.

It's their view of women, however, that illustrates the profound difference between the two celebrated and prolific filmmakers: Where Woody can barely hide his contempt for the gentler sex, Chabrol has a more enlightened take, suggesting that a woman's fate is too often determined by the men who will inevitably objectify her.

Such is the case for Gabrielle Snow (Ludivine Sagnier), a television weather girl, who is the apple of every man's eye. Coy but sexy, she falls upward in her career as her love life rollercoasters from one bad decision to the next. Ping-ponging between two unsavory lovers, Gabrielle burns with love for a philandering writer twice her age (François Berléand perfectly cast as the smug lothario), while a petulant trust fund dandy (Benoît Magimel) relentlessly courts her affections. Seduction, deviant sex (sadly, off screen), betrayal and, eventually, murder bring this dysfunctional love triangle crashing down, as the audience struggles to figure out who, if anyone, they should root for.

Which may be Chabrol's point. The director has compared himself to an entomologist, who puts his characters under a magnifying glass in order to better see them squirm, and A Girl Cut in Two certainly makes a study of the way the bourgeoisie dispassionately wine and dine their way through self-created dramas. The problem with Chabrol's analogy, however, is that most entomologists admire their bugs, not delight in emotionally squeezing the life out of them. Gabrielle is far too foolish and two-dimensional to sympathize with, an easily manipulated sexpot with daddy issues, and the men in her life merely come in various shades of cad. Worse, the film is glacially paced, methodically building Chabrol's worldview but unable to generate a modicum of suspense.

Tastefully presenting what is in essence a sleazy morality play, A Girl Cut in Two draws no conclusion about the sordid outcomes of Gabielle's decisions, and so we're left to guess whether Chabrol is mocking the upper class or expressing a bizarre form of solidarity. If he makes one thing clear, it's that women are too often caught up in games that are, ultimately, controlled by men. Chabrol's supporting cast is filled with strong, beautiful women who know how to survive but not necessarily how to be happy. As one betrayed wife pointedly expresses, "In my next life, I want a pair of balls."

Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237), at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct 2, and Friday and Saturday, Oct. 3-4, at 9 p.m.

Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].