- The Washington Times - Friday, September 19, 2008

Critics have contrasted French subtlety to Hollywood’s love of the over-the-top many times. Leave it to master Claude Chabrol, though, to make a film about the varieties of corruption and depravity without so much as a glimpse of nudity.

Mr. Chabrol, a founding member of the French new wave, has been making films for exactly 50 years. There’s no question his work is still relevant. For his latest film, “A Girl Cut in Two” (“La fille coupee en deux”) he has taken a century-old, real-life scandal and made it contemporary, showing that the human heart hasn’t evolved at the same rate as human society.

Gabrielle Deneige’s last name can be translated as “of the snow.” This innocent (played by Ludivine Sagnier) won’t remain so for long after her fateful introductions to two men in the space of an hour. At her mother’s Lyon bookstore, she meets local literary lion Charles Saint-Denis (Francois Berleand). Gabrielle, a TV weather girl with greater ambitions, is as taken with the fiftysomething author as he is with her - this man of great experience can teach her a thing or two.

Charles isn’t the beautiful blonde’s only admirer. Paul Gaudens (Benoit Magimel) is the heir to a pharmaceutical fortune and, unlike Charles, isn’t married. That doesn’t necessarily make him a better catch. “I’m used to getting what I want, honey, so don’t fight it,” he growls to Gabrielle. The troubled young man clearly is unstable, but his good looks and clear devotion make him hard to resist.

Indeed, Gabrielle will be cut in two by this pair, not from having to choose between them, but from trying to hold on to her bloom in the face of their very different forms of corruption. Mr. Chabrol is known as the French heir of Hitchcock, and a crime will be committed here, but the real suspense is emotional.

There are a few moments of unbelievability. These men seem to declare their love awfully fast, for one. It’s all forgotten every time Miss Sagnier is on-screen. Memorable as the coquettish object of affection of the blundering rich man in 2007’s “Moliere,” she is mesmerizing here. She’s charming one moment, hopelessly in despair the next, but always believable, even in the drama’s most sordid moments.

As I said, that depravity is mostly implied - and I won’t reveal the players in the real-life drama that must have inspired this, for fear of giving away the plot. As Charles says, “Sexuality is one of the great mysteries of humanity.” We’re lucky that mystery master Claude Chabrol is still making films that explore it.

★★★

TITLE: “A Girl Cut in Two” (“La fille coupee en deux”)

RATING: Not rated (adult themes)

CREDITS: Directed by Claude Chabrol. Written by Mr. Chabrol and Cecile Maistre.

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes

WEB SITE: www.ifcfilms.com/viewFilm.htm?filmId=756

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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