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Girl Cut in Two

By Bret McCabe | Posted 9/24/2008

Four decades after rejuvenating film through insouciant movie love, the surviving directors of the French New Wave are doing the same thing to the adult drama. This year alone has witnessed exceptional fare from Claude Lelouch (Roman de gare), Jacques Rivette (The Duchess of Langeais), and Eric Rohmer (The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, yet to come to Baltimore), and now arrives Claude Chabrol's Girl Cut in Two, perhaps the most icily lurid and entertaining of the bunch. Chabrol and his co-writer Cécil Maistre update the tabloid melodrama of American architect Standford White--who was embroiled in a 1906 scandal with a millionaire over White's previous relationship with his young wife--and transplants it to a chic France of publishing, industrial heirs, decadent sex clubs, and knuckle-bitingly attractive women.

Charles Saint-Denis (Francois Berléand, best known in America as the jaunty Marseilles inspector in the Transporter series) is an acclaimed older novelist--and quietly renown libertine--who has retreated from Paris' bustle for Lyons, where he lives in an extravagantly modern home with his forgiving wife (Valeria Cavalli). His publisher, Capucine (the otherworldly Mathilda May), prods him to maintain his media profile by appearing on television and attending book signings. And it's at one such Parisian bookstore appearance that Charles meets Gabrielle Snow (Ludivine Sagnier), a young TV weathergirl in search of a father figure. He courts Gabrielle by taking her to an auction and giving her a rare edition of the smut classic The Woman and the Puppet, about an older man who falls in lust with a younger woman.

Gabrielle also catches the fancy of Paul Gaudens (Benoît Magimel), the scion of a chemical magnate, and Paul always gets his way or pouts like the impudent spoiled brat that he is. Perpetually clad in something paisley or velvet, Paul is a curt dandy with a mean streak and a contentious history with Charles, such that Gabrielle coming between them only further stirs an already embittered pot.

If you're familiar with the Standford White affair, you know how Girl plays out, but the treat is how Chabrol navigates this love triangle and how subtly he dishes out his ribald, scabrous observational barbs. And the acting is delirious fun: Berléand inhabits this sophisticated dirty old man with a cunning glee, but it's Magimel who steals the flick. With a flippant hairstyle, darting eyes, and desperate bouts of tender entreaties and outright lunacy, Paul becomes the movie's most incendiary bafflement. Girl Cut in Two doesn't illuminate some unexplored region of the human experience, but it's a devilishly rewarding cinema offsetting the usual nonsense that passes for "adult drama."

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