Half and Half

A Girl Cut in Two (Li Fille Coupee en Deux)
Running time 115 minutes
Written by Claude Chabrol and C
écile Maistre
Directed by Claude Chabrol
Starring Ludivine Sagnier, François Berléand, Benoit Magimel

Claude Chabrol’s A Girl Cut in Two (Li Fille Coupée en Deux), from a screenplay by Mr. Chabrol and Cécile Maistre, is the 51st film of Mr. Chabrol’s illustrious career, which began on an unusually high note with Le Beau Berge in 1958. Mr. Chabrol, now 78, once remarked that when confronted with the endless palaver about the French New Wave, of which he was one of the charter members from Cahiers du Cinema: “There are no Waves, New or otherwise, there is only the ocean.” And A Girl Cut in Two is still in the swim of things, based as it is very loosely on the 1906 passion slaying of famous architect Stanford White by the husband of White’s mistress, former Broadway chorine Evelyn Neebitt.

Still, there is nothing turn-of-the-century or even American about Mr. Chabrol’s take on the subject. Indeed, the provocative protagonist, Ludivine Sagnier’s Gabrielle Denige, is a television weather girl who attracts the lustful attention of François Berléand’s famous writer and TV celebrity, Charles Saint-Denis.

Gabrielle reciprocates his ardor, and becomes infatuated with him even though she knows he is married. For his part, Charles tires of Gabrielle and goes abroad to escape her. Meanwhile, Benoit Magimel’s Paul Gardens, feckless heir to a large chemical fortune, keeps pestering Gabrielle to marry him, even though he knows she still carries a torch for Charles.

What happens next fulfills Chekhov’s dramaturgical imperative for The Three Sisters, which stipulates that if you show a gun in the first act, you’d better use it by the third. As for Gabrielle, she manages to survive both metaphorically being cut in two between Charles and Paul, and her actually seeming to be cut in two by a stage magician. This is one of Mr. Chabrol’s strangest films, but he still makes a ripple in his ocean.

asarris@observer.com

Half and Half