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25 May 2009

A Girl Cut Out for Trouble

It's been a while since I've seen a French film at the cinema and there isn't much on at the moment anyway so I dragged a Francophile friend to see La fille coupée en deux (A Girl Cut in Two), which is on only at two of the Curzon cinemas in Brunswick Square and Richmond. The summaries I had read suggested that the film is all about pretty, blonde weather girl Gabrielle who is torn between two lovers--a prize-winning novelist and bon viveur, several decades her senior, and a rich, young playboy. 

Although watching the film wasn't my priority on the occasion I went to see that film at the cinema, thanks to various distractions, I quite enjoyed Ludivine Sagnier (who plays Gabrielle) in Swimming Pool and she has featured in a number of the other French films I have seen in recent years, including Un secret, Les Chansons d'Amour, Paris Je T'Aime and 8 Femmes. I've seen a few Claude Chabrol films too, including La Femme Infidèle, which we watched in an A-level French class and which was remade as the shoddy Unfaithful.

I wasn't overly impressed with La fille coupée en deux, however. Firstly because none of the characters were very likable, except possibly Gabrielle's mother, who doesn't have much screen time and, in any case, is more not-unlikable than likable. Gabrielle herself is by turns vain and ambitious, naive and insecure. Pretty much every guy in the film adores her but obviously, she can't please them all. She openly admits to Charles, her novelist lover, that although her mother owns a bookshop, she doesn't read. He buys her an expensive and erotic tome at an auction and patronisingly tells her she can look at the pictures if she doesn't want to read it. 

Charles, meanwhile, is a busy man. Busy writing (always on his MacBook), busy entertaining his many women (who include his wife of 25 years, his publicist-cum-PA-cum-mistress Capucine, a barmaid in the Eyes Wide Shut-style club he and his friends frequent and, latterly, Gabrielle who is besotted with him), busy schmoozing and busy hanging out in his amazing country retreat. He may have professed to love Gabrielle but this is sometimes hard to tell in a French film where je t'aime can mean "I love you" or "I like you"; certainly, although she tells him, "je suis amoureuse de toi" (I am in love with you), he doesn't return the sentiment. Eventually, he tells her he's going to London for a few days and buggers off for good, having got his wife to change the locks on his city centre shagpad (the name next to the buzzer reads, "Paradis").

Then there's Paul, son and heir of a local businessman who set up the famous Gaudens Labs but who died ten years earlier. Although Paul's mother loathes Little Miss Weathergirl, Paul adores Gabrielle and pursues her relentlessly for much of the film, even though she tells him she isn't interested. Paul is also way creepy--one night his friend has to physically remove his (Paul's) hands from Gabrielle's neck after she refused to kiss him (Paul). Oh, and Paul and Charles don't like each other--Charles tells his wife and mistress that this is because he knows that a few years ago Paul kidnapped some nine-year-old girls and had some funny business with them, although it was kept out of the papers. Paul dislikes Charles even before he finds out that Gabrielle loves Charles, although the film does not make it clear why this is the case (perhaps he is worried Charles will blab).

As such, for much of the film, Gabrielle isn't the least bit cut in two--I spent the first 90 minutes working out how it could be seen to be so--as she isn't interested in Paul, only in Charles. I wondered whether she was torn between furthering her career at the TV station (by schmoozing yet another lech who wants to get in her knickers) and her affair with Charles, but this wasn't the case either.

In any case, after Charles leaves the country, our heroine falls into a deep depression, which only lifts when Paul whisks her away to Lisbon (she had asked Charles if he would take her there but he didn't answer). They shop and have fun but then he tries to get it on with her over Martinis in their swank hotel (paid for, along with the shopping, by Paul's trust fund) and she LJBFs him. Error. He tells her to get screwed then because he really loves her dammit, but isn't going to sit around waiting for her. Whether through guilt, pity or realising she can never get what she wants from Charles, she tells him that she does love him and to prove it, she's willing to marry him. Great idea. Much to Paul's Maman's displeasure, they do end up getting married, despite Charles's attempted intervention during Gabrielle's wedding dress fitting where she tells him she'll always love him but at least this way, both spoused up, they'll be "balanced."

The marriage, however, is not happy. Back in Portugal on their anniversary, Paul starts dredging up Gabrielle's past with Charles (to which she confessed in detail so there were no secrets between them) and specifically what kinky sex games she played at Charles's weird, Eyes Wide Shut club. Because he is completely nuts, he pulls out a gun and points it first at Gab and then at himself...pulls the trigger but...wait, it's not loaded. The madness and the tragedy accelerate from this point, with the film culminating in a bizarre closing sequence where Gab's uncle, who turns out to be some famous magician, is on stage introducing his niece as "the woman who will be cut in two." Ah, so after all that, the title just referred to this end gag? Right... As the credits rolls, we just see a close-up of Gabrielle's smiling, "stage face" as she beams at the audience and the red curtains in the background.

Yes, it was indeed a very strange film and one I'm still not entirely sure that I enjoyed. Mais c'est normal, hein?


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