Claude Chabrol, who should soon be shooting his 70th feature, is at once wildly prolific and utterly faithful—at least to the conventions of the commercial thriller. Darkly droll, his A Girl Cut in Two updates the scandalous case of the celebrated fin de siècle architect Stanford White—shot dead by the jealous young millionaire who married White's teenage mistress, a showgirl. An old-fashioned cineaste, Chabrol came to the story by way of its 1955 Hollywood version, The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, though he transposes it to contemporary Lyon. Charles, a successful novelist and practiced libertine (played with seasoned suavity by François Berléand), vies with Paul, the young, unstable heir to a pharmaceutical fortune (given a memorable foppish swagger by Benoît Magimel), for the favors of an innocent TV weather girl, Gabrielle (wide-eyed, luscious Ludivine Sagnier). Confident yet vulnerable, Gabrielle falls for the (much) older guy and, in love for the first time, allows herself to be debauched by this veteran roué. Then after a nasty breakup and an ensuing breakdown, she marries the preening young fool on the rebound—thus effectively incinerating them all. A Girl Cut in Two is a spry piece of work, and although directed for mordant comedy, the spectacle of a naive, lower-middle-class woman's misadventures in a nest of wealthy vipers is initially unsettling and ultimately gut-wrenching.
Everyone wants a piece of Sagnier.
Runs at Varsity, Fri., Oct. 3–Thurs., Oct. 9. Not rated. 115 minutes.