Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Tale of Two Halves

With cinematic (re)emergences this year from Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer, and Claude Chabrol, you may look at your calendar and think it to be 1968 rather than 2008. Stranger yet is that each of the new films from these old new wavers is that they each revolve around sex (or the lack thereof) and sexual relationships. Rivette’s conspiratorial would-be love affair recalls his best work. Rohmer’s bittersweet film, while far from his best film, takes a period piece, as does Rivette’s, and evokes a thoroughly modern context. What is, then, most odd about Chabrol’s A Girl Cut In Two, the only of the three films to take place in modern day, is that it feels the most out of touch and outdated. While the film features the most taboo relationship in the three films, that of a S&M relationship between an old rich famous author and a peppy young weather girl, seemingly famous in her own right, Chabrol’s script fails to be comfortable with the subject it broaches. With A Girl Cut In Two, Chabrol, always obsessed with the hidden lives of the bourgeois, opens up this “dangerous” taboo for discussion, but, much like a character in the film, when the topic is spoken aloud, he simply leaves the room.

What makes this more disappointing is that A Girl Cut In Two is a very well acted for its entirety and a playfully smart thriller in its first half. Gabrielle (the always wonderful Ludivine Sagnier) is a local TV weather girl with increasing popularity and opportunities coming her way. These opportunities are popping up at her work as well as with encounters with famous author Charles Saint-Denis (Francois Berleand) and Paul Gaudens (Benoit Magimel), a young playboy with an unlimited amount of wealth due to an inheritance. The upper class bourgeois games for the control, and sexual use, of Gabrielle are what carry the bulk of the more successful first half of the film. Charles is sly and experienced, charming Gabrielle at a local book signing and inviting her to an auction where he buys he a rare copy of a classic S&M novel. Paul, insecure and unstable, practically begs for the chance to be in Gabrielle’s presence and attempts to woo her at all costs. The three lead performances feature great nuances which add depth and resonance to the film’s excellent first half and are enough to hold our interest in the sloppy, directionless second half.

A Girl Cut In Two never really delves into why Gabrielle chooses who she chooses at the points in the film when she sporadically changes her mind. While the audience can, to some extent, attempt to fill in the blank of Gabrielle’s reasoning, it becomes an increasingly frustrating experience, and not just because things start going poorly for the naive protagonist Gabrielle. Despite waiting for years for Charles to leave his wife in favor of her, Gabrielle’s decision making becomes more naive as her experience increases throughout the film. The narrative jumps forward in time at several points, yet the mindset of the lead character bends backwards rather than progressing. Maybe this is a psychological detriment that comes with being “cut in two”, as an unnecessarily blunt visual metaphor shows Gabrielle to be at the end of the film, yet it seems rather tactless that Chabrol’s script showcases the young female as increasingly inept in her decision making even as she should become smarter in recognizing her past mistakes, as she seems to do...just without the results.

Gabrielle is strongly influenced by the people (men and women) around her, and Sagnier allows enough space to make the character’s choices believable. However, when the film turns into a murder mystery in disastrous final act, excessive (and, to my mind, unimportant) backstory highlights how easily manipulated Gabrielle continues to be. Manipulating Gabrielle becomes so easy for everyone associated with her that it falls into being one-note and rather simple minded. Chabrol’s script continually falls back into one frame of mind without ever attempting to deal with the choices Gabrielle makes in shaping her own experiences.

Gabrielle is rightfully torn apart by the end of the film, but A Girl Cut In Two does very little to show why this happens. Rather than confronting the upheaval of the bourgeois in the face of taboo controversy, Chabrol falls back into the bourgeois ideology it appears to attack by being simple minded, non-confrontational, and typically masculine. Though the top notch performances keep the film interesting, A Girl Cut In Two undercuts its first half strengths with extreme second half weaknesses. Chabrol certainly shows the ability to remain at the top of his form, but his command needs to be stronger and more apt than his female protagonists for his films to be completely successful.

by James Hansen


Joel Bocko said...

I wanted to see the latest Rivette - it would have been full-circle since I only read the particular Balzac story he adapted as a result of seeing Out 1 with its use of the Thirteen. But unfortunately I missed a few opportunities and now it appears to be too late. How was the Rohmer?

James Hansen said...

Rivette's should be on DVD soon and is one of the best this year so far. Rohmer's is kind of sweet and pretty to look at (all those young attractive people!) but fairly forgettable, other than a couple of really fun scenes. Knowing it is Rohmer's last film makes it instantly more appealing and likable, similar to the effect that Altman's retirement and death created in discussions of "A Prairie Home Companion". Although I probably like Rohmer's more, I have pretty similar feelings (and memories) towards both of those films.

Continually making my Girl Cut In Two reaction ever changing and strange is that it is, without a doubt, sharper than the others (aside from Rivette's) yet I like it the least. I feel like maybe I'm getting hung up on the sex issue since I am currently preparing my thesis on the subject, but I just can't get past it (as I hope I explained in my review.) Ah well.

Thanks for the comment! We haven't been getting many lately despite a solid number of unique hits every day. Again I say, ah well. :)