A cool study of erotic longing, misguided love and class warfare in the civilized spheres of French society, Claude Chabrol's A Girl Cut in Two is a kind of deadpan soap opera — but one that, despite its high melodrama and wicked humor, delivers a real emotional wallop.
Inspired by the Gilded Age romantic scandal involving architect Stanford White, actress Evelyn Nesbit and her mentally unhinged millionaire husband, Harry K. Thaw, the veteran Chabrol transplants this doomed triangle to modern-day Lyon. There, tucked away in a big glass country house, lives Charles Saint-Denis (François Berléand), a famous author, long married but with a history of outside dalliances.
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At a TV studio for a talk-show interview, Saint-Denis eyes the station's bewitching weather forecaster — aptly named Gabrielle Deneige (“of snow”). Ludivine Sagnier, the mystery girl of Swimming Pool (and Tinkerbell in P.J. Hogan's Peter Pan), has no problem whatsoever convincing us that her Gabrielle could fall for this gray-bearded man many decades her elder. An affair, with assignations at Saint-Denis' city apartment, ensues.
But someone else has eyes for Gabrielle. Paul Gaudens (Chabrol regular Benoît Magimel), the kooky son of a family with a pharmaceutical fortune, can't get the weather girl out of his mind. And he and Saint-Denis, it seems, have a history.
Chabrol, 78, is as nimble and shrewd a filmmaker as ever. Jaunty music leavens the suspense, arch dialogue cloaks the under lying passion, and a gentlemanly discretion renders the sex scenes anything but explicit. And still, masterfully, A Girl Cut in Two pulses with suspense, passion and sex.