The Girl Cut In Two: Chabrol’s Astute Dissection Of Women

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The late French cinematic master Claude Chabrol crafted The Girl Cut In Two as follow-up to Comedy Of Power in more ways than one. The Girl Cut In Two (Fille Coupee’ En Deux) is an acutely aware dramatic exploration of the ways in which men objectify women in bourgeois culture, as truly ‘objects’ of desire to possess, exploit and discard at will. And occasionally to dismember and destroy, whether emotionally in an intimate setting, or for mass entertainment and public spectacle.

And hardly farfetched, considering the nearly simultaneous 2007 publication of O.J. Simpson’s deplorably disingenuous ‘If I Did It,’ a case of the merchandising of violence against women if ever there was. Ludivine Sagnier is Gabrielle in Girl Cut In Two, an attractive young weather girl at a local Lyons TV station. When acclaimed novelist Charles Saint-Denis (Francois Berleand) shows up for an on-air interview, Gabrielle succumbs to an enormous schoolgirl crush, and she pursues the flattered old codger in his sixties, whose libido is apparently stirred as well.

And though Charles is very much involved in a solid marriage for over two decades to a devoted wife, he encourages Gabrielle’s affections and arranges for trysts in an apartment he maintains as a writing space. As Gabrielle is drawn ever deeper into this relationship, it becomes apparent that she’s a mere erotic plaything for her duplicitous secret lover.

Charles is soon luring Gabrielle into group sex, incredulously, as her birthday present. And in one scene, has her dress up for his pleasure in an absurd, scanty provocative outfit adorned with peacock feathers, in order to crawl over to him in bed on her knees like a performing hooker.

This torrid triangle eventually extends to a foursome, as Paul (Benoit Magimel), a young, spoiled and possibly psychologically unbalanced playboy and heir to a vast drug empire, is smitten by Gabrielle and pursues her shamelessly, preposterously demanding that the indifferent woman return his affection. Gabrielle repeatedly discourages the insistent Paul to no avail, but when Charles later tires of her and cruelly discards her, Gabrielle, after a period of incapacitating despair, impulsively agrees to wed Paul.

The marriage turns out to be a tragic mistake, as Paul’s obsession to possess Gabrielle quickly evolves into an abusive consuming jealousy over her past affair with Charles, which he can only relieve by contemplating the murder of his imagined rival unceasingly haunting him. Eventually Gabrielle is scorned by Paul’s family, openly contemptuous of her lower class roots, and with few prospects she’s lured into her uncle’s stage act as the girl who, well, gets sawed in two.

The story is based on the real life sensationalized murder of New York architect Stanford White in 1906. The Girl Cut In Two is taut, candidly crafted storytelling. Chabrol masterfully focuses a keen eye on the misogynistic convergence of entrenched private psychological behavior towards women, and far from unrelated modes of public exploitative entertainment as not unconnected sublimated sexism.

The hypocrisy of bourgeois marriage conventions which extend to the emotional violation of female affection and devotion of wives and lovers alike, and seal the fate of women as mere property, are given voice here through uncompromising dramatic interplay and without the requirement of words. Bravo, Claude, a rare man in profound touch with the darker impulses of his species.

IFC Films

Unrated

4 stars

DVD Features: Interview With Actress Ludivine Sagnier; Theatrical Trailer.