Doodad Kind of Town

"A Girl Cut in Two"
August 19, 2008, 11:29 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

For a movie that deals largely in sexual perversion, “A Girl Cut in Two” is a remarkably tasteful and discreet affair.

There are plenty of kinky goings-on among the characters in this film, but they’re never shown onscreen. And if you blink, you might miss the subtly telegraphed suggestions of offscreen bedroom mayhem that are contained in bits of throwaway dialogue or the choice of a character’s attire.

Maybe this is business-as-usual for French director Claude Charbrol; you couldn’t tell by me, as I’m pretty sure this is the first of his films I’ve ever seen. Its elegant and mordant wit appealed to me, even as I recognized it wasn’t the most original of stories.

In fact, it’s pretty obviously based on an early 20th century New York scandal involving architect Stanford White, artist’s model Evelyn Nesbitt, and a mad millionaire named Harry Thaw. (If you aren’t familiar with said scandal, I’d refer you to the 1981 film “Ragtime,” a film whose plot is partly set in motion by the events.)

In this fictional take-off , the story is transported to contemporary Lyon, France, where the players are a revered, middle-aged writer (Francois Berleand), the spoiled and unstable heir to a chemical company fortune (Benoit Magimel) and the weather girl for a provincial cable channel (Ludivine Sagnier). Sagnier’s character, Gabrielle, projects a sort of unfocused, giggly innocence; she’s costumed in a series of floaty tops over shapeless blue jeans, and made up with sky blue eye shadow and pale pink lip glosses. Nonetheless, she soons exhibits a taste for darkness, as well as some major Daddy issues. (She has some cryptic dialogue early on which indicates that her father hasn’t been around during much of her life.) So when the much older author takes a shine to her while he’s at the station shooting an interview, she quickly becomes obsessed with him.

We’ve already glimpsed a bit of the writer, Charles, at home. In a large and airy manse in in the country, he enjoys a happy menage a trois with his wife and his agent – the former always clad in white and sporting a halo of soft curls, the later a reed-thin, somewhat severe-looking brunette who invariably wears black. No details are given, but after his agent makes a pointed wisecrack about him being like the Marquis de Sade, you don’t really need any more details.

Charles begins an affair with Gabrielle that is pretty much conducted on his own terms and at his own convenience, which leaves her ample free time to be wooed and pursued by the tempestuous rich guy. Magimel’s character is a spoiled brat who lives unapolgetically off the family fortune. From his first moments on screen, it’s clear he’s up to all kinds of sexual mischief of which his family strongly disapproves; there are eventual implications that his partners range from horses to 10-year-old girls. His family has even hired a minder to accompany him everywhere and remove him from situations which ignite his unseemly passions. Gabrielle doesn’t love him, but she humors him in his relentless pursuit of her. Meanwhile, she runs to join Charles at his slightest beckoning, even when he celebrates her birthday by taking her upstairs at a genteel-appearing sex club into (with apologies to Gordon Lightfoot) “a room where you do what you don’t confess.”

We don’t see what goes on in that room, but those familiar with the Stanford White scandal already know to what tragic end this uneasy love triangle is headed. Actually, even if you don’t know about the real-life story, I don’t think the events which unfold in the second half of “A Girl Cut in Two” will surprise you. The story itself is nothing new or special. It’s the deadly clever wit with which the story is told that will keep you engrossed till the final frame.


3 Comments so far
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Interesting. I saw this one on the way but haven’t heard much about it and wasn’t that drawn to it. Sounds intriguing, though.

Comment by Daniel G.

Daniel -I enjoyed it, but it’s nothing special. I was interested to finally see something by Claude Charbrol, who’s known as the French Alfred Hitchcock, and Andrew O’Hehir’s interview with Ludivin Sagnier on Salon also piqued my interest.

Comment by Pat

I want to see this too, not sure when I will though.

Comment by nick plowman

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