Friday, December 12, 2008

Film Review: A GIRL CUT IN TWO (2008, Claude Chabrol)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 115 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Benoit Magimel (of Chabrol's THE BRIDESMAID and THE FLOWER OF EVIL and Haneke's THE PIANO TEACHER), François Berleand (everything from CAMILLE CLAUDEL to Breillat's ROMANCE to THE TRANSPORTER 2) , Ludivine Sagnier (of Ozon's SWIMMING POOL), Mathilda May (from THE JACKAL...hah), Caroline Sihol, Thomas Chabrol.
Tag-line: "One man's love is another man's lust."
Awards: Golden Arena at the Pula Film Festival, Bastone Bianca Award at the Venice Film Festival.

Chabrol is a subtle filmmaker. He's long lived in the shadow of Hitchcock (try and find an article, review, or appreciation that does not use the tired phrase "the French Hitchcock"), but his films are much more subtle, vague, and 'RULES OF THE GAME meets Agatha Christie,' than Hitchcock, which sometimes works in his favor, and sometimes against. I don't understand the preponderance of negative reviews. Obviously, this is not an ideal entry point into Chabrol's work (I would suggest LES BONNES FEMMES, MASQUES, or LA CEREMONIE for starters), but A GIRL CUT IN TWO is a very well-constructed film. Based on the Nesbit/Thaw/White love triangle from turn of the century America, Chabrol constructs a film with multi-layered characters (most of them total self-serving dicks), superb acting,

(particularly Chabrol favorite Benoit Magimel as the simpering, unstable dandy), hidden motivations, and the unsettling creepiness of what goes on behind the closed doors of the rich and lecherous. Chabrol does require you to meet him halfway- a crucial event might be faded out on, then referenced in innuendo or half-divulged remarks, and much of the enjoyment comes from piecing together the mysterious motivations, almost as if you are a member of the social circle figuring things out from half-heard conversations or hearsay. By now, you should know if this is the sort of film you'd like or not. It's not BASIC INSTINCT or SLIVER, no matter what the poster may insinuate. But consider Chabrol a fine red wine compared to the mixed fruit-flavored special brew St. Ides malt liquor that Hollywood generally serves up as a romantic psychological thriller.

Sometimes you need that special brew, and it gets the job done. But, ultimately, you're gonna get a lot more out of the red wine. I hope.

-Sean Gill

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