The nasty little French trifle "A Girl Cut in Two" comes from celebrated 78-year-old director Claude Chabrol and was inspired by the sensational murder of womanizing architect Stanford White by the jealous husband of his former mistress.
Chabrol, who wrote the script with assistant director Cecile Maistre, transposes the story from Gilded Age United States to Lyons in modern-day France, replacing the actress with a TV weather girl and including other aspects of the White case.
Young beauty Ludivigne Sagnier ("The Swimming Pool") stars as the appropriately named Gabrielle Snow (Deneige in French), who simultaneously attracts the attention of womanizing gray-haired novelist Charles Saint Denis (Francois Berleand) and young and clinically insane Paul Gaudens (Benois Magimel), heir to a pharmaceutical fortune.
The film opens with a dramatic flourish, a Puccini opera score and landscape viewed through a blood red light, soon giving way to the sharp angles, chilly glass and mirrors of the luxurious modern estate Saint Denis shares with his beautiful young wife.
Saint Denis is a celebrity in Lyons, much sought-after for book signings and TV interviews, where he first meets Snow while flirting with the TV makeup artist in a dressing room.
Naive young Gabrielle is tutored in sex by Saint Denis, who uses her as a plaything in various perverse games, including an outfit of peacock feathers and voyeuristic sex at an exclusive club (suggested but not re-enacted on screen). Gabrielle declares herself madly in love with him; he returns her affection by changing the locks at their love nest.
There's a mechanical quality to the two stars and the entire setup of the story. Francois Berleand, who had comic roles in "Transporter 2" and "Transporter 3," is leaden in the lead role as world-weary, lecherous Saint Denis, motivated more by boredom than passion to take up with Snow. The players go through the motions, but none of it is particularly engaging or memorable. Savignier is a talented actress, but she wanders about with a deer-in-the-headlights stare for the second half of this movie up to and including the moment when she is literally cut in two.
Magimel, who starred opposite Isabelle Huppert in "The Piano Teacher," adds welcome antic energy to the proceedings as the crazy wealthy suitor who marries Gabrielle on the rebound, to the disgust of his fastidious mother.
There's something sadly amiss in a movie when the most memorable characters are minor players: Gaudens' horrible mother (Caroline Silhol); Saint Denis' beautiful, long-suffering wife (Valeria Cavalli); and Gabrielle Snow's anxious mother (Marie Bunel).
A GIRL CUT IN TWO
2 1/2 stars (out of 4)
STARRING: Ludivine Sagnier, Benoit Magimel, Francois Berleand, Mathilda May and Caroline Silhol
DIRECTOR: Claude Chabrol
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
RATING: Unrated but R equivalent for adult themes.
THE LOWDOWN: A successful older novelist and a wealthy young playboy both lust after the same young woman. In French with English subtitles.