Neither sexy nor insightful, The Girl Cut In Two is a resounding dud.
In the opening scene of Claude Chabrol’s The Girl Cut in Two, a romantic aria from Puccini’s 'Turandot' is offset by a sinister blood red sky. It’s just the first in a series of intense juxtapositions: between young and old, male and female, Puritanism and decadence. But none of these conflicts will be resolved convincingly in a story that, although based on truth, is hermetically sealed from the real world.
This is an airless, artless haunt of aristocrats and libertines playing out their coy perversions in oak-panelled clubs and country estates. It’s a world where an attractive TV presenter can be lured into bed by a wrinkled windbag. Where physical assault is no barrier to romance. And where the only cure for a broken heart is another good fuck.
That TV presenter is Gabrielle (Ludivine Sagnier), a perky weather girl who catches the eye of wealthy novelist Charles (François Berléand). Charles is a man who likes to be surrounded by 'beauty', which means an antiseptic mansion on the outskirts of the city, and a publicist modelled on a blow-up doll.
Of course, the film being directed by a 79-year-old French director, Gabrielle finds him irresistibly sexy, and the pair are soon sequestered in his pied à terre, where she manages the heroic feat of performing a blowjob on the old duffer without gagging.
Enter bored rich kid Paul (Benoît Magimel), who despises the arriviste Charles, but also falls in love with Gabrielle. Despite the fact that Paul is quite obviously psychotic, Gabrielle can’t say ‘no’ to this new man in her life, and when Charles dumps her the stage is set for a series of dark events to unfold.
Although relatively chaste, Chabrol has said that The Girl Cut in Two is his first porn film. It’s all about sex, baby – with Sagnier playing devastatingly against type as the doe-eyed submissive being introduced (patronisingly) to the world of adulthood, which in this case means putting peacock feathers in strange places, and allowing Charles’ rich mates to ‘have a go’.
We’re stalking similar territory to Steven Shainberg’s Secretary, but far from showing that film’s erotic charge (or tenderness, or transgression), Chabrol’s porno is about as sexy as a tax return. Sagnier and Berléand have all the chemistry of two mannequins being rubbed together. When they kiss, it looks like an uncle acting inappropriately with his niece. And Magimel plays Paul as the kind of simpering rich kid so suffused in self-pity (and cliché) that it’s a miracle he can get it up at all.
Chabrol may be one of the great survivors of the New Wave, but this is an old man’s film. The Oedipal conflict between Paul and Charles is framed against a resentful, paranoid fear of the young; while Gabrielle is a poor advertisement for the modern woman. A twenty-first century girl, she nevertheless throws herself at the first two rich guys to flash their wallets, despite the fact that one of them practically tries to rape her on the first date.
"Everybody treats me like a kid," she complains, before spending the rest of the film acting like one. If she really thought that Charles was going to leave his wife – as she confidently tells her mum – never mind being cut in two, she needs a lobotomy.
And on the subject of that metaphor, by the end of the film it’s been so crudely overstated that there might as well be a flashing neon sign that literally spells it out. But this is not the world – this place of dangerous liaisons, simple dualities and upper crust peccadilloes. "Life is not easy for most people," opines Charles. "Oh, fuck off," you’ll reply.
Claude Chabrol is one of those New Wave directors who’s not just still working, but still worthwhile.
Sagnier is luminous, but the rest of the film is as flaccid as an old man’s, um, waistline.
Neither sexy nor insightful. A resounding dud.