Claude Chabrol’s modern love triangle pitches feminine naivety against two types of masculine power. The result, says John, is a film which updates the best of his early work with the concerns of his more recent films.
Throughout his career, Claude Chabrol has found a multitude of ways to explore the question of what men are like. In his most celebrated period, the collaborations with Paul Gegauff, this was often done through a deliberate contrast created between the leading male protagonists of his films with a gregarious, instinctual character often in a romantic contest with a cerebral older man. By creating this tension, Chabrol allowed himself to explore power and status and the condition of the human, mainly male, beast.
His later films, ever since Violette Noziere and moving through works like Une Affaire de Femmes up to, most recently, L’ivresse du Pouvoir, have been far more concerned with women. He has started to trace how women are made by the society of men around them – the hard as nails judge fighting the old boys club in L’ivresse du Pouvoir, the illiterate housekeeper empowering herself in La Ceremonie, and the young Violette revolting against home, social mores and poverty in Violette Noziere. In La Fille Coupee en Deux, Chabrol returns to a story of a naive woman on her way up in the world.Written with his step-daughter, Cecile Maistre, and featuring the kind of male protagonists who populated his films with Gegauff, there is a strong sense that Chabrol is reuniting different strands of his work here. There is an older urbane character called Charles, often the moniker for characters like Chabrol himself in his films, and there is a younger, more temperamental Paul, again the name given to a lot of the roles that the director and Gegauff created that were much like the latter man. The two men fight for the affections of a younger woman whose career, naivety and peace are ruined by the experience.
Further similarities between old and new can be found in the switching between locations of town and country, the battles between new and old money, and the score from Mathieu Chabrol which recalls Pierre Jansen’s best work for the director. Above all though the film follows a kind of harsh education for a young woman where her efforts to get by on her own merits are eventually destroyed by the ego of the celebrity writer, played by Francois Berleand, and the need for possession of the idly rich Benoit Magimel. The fatherless Gabrielle is first ensnared by the older celebrity and his desire to be served by her, and her desire to do so, leads to an insanely squalid affair where she lets herself be debased. Stung by rejection, she ends up married to loopy Paul who is obsessed with the writer’s status and even more jealous of his effect on his wife. When things come to a head, she is left without love, a career, or any of her illusions. Like seemingly all of the other women in the film, she grows up as the male world turns on her. As the writer’s wife says after being constantly called a saint by him, “know what this saint dreams of, if she had another life? Reincarnation with a pair of balls!”.
This explicit focus on masculine power and feminine experience is a definite modernising of the director’s earlier work. The existence of a number of interesting roles for women, each with their own way of dealing with the masculine, paints them as far more rounded characters than the men who dominate Gabrielle. The Paul and Charles that so interested the director in his best films are merely the twin forces that almost destroy this young woman, and her ironic final status as the beautiful assistant dissected for public entertainment is a sign that the 79 year old Chabrol still enjoys dry wit.The Girl Cut in Two, to use the English title, seems to me the maturation of a cycle of the director’s work which has been created through extensive collaboration with female writers, women centred stories, and his own growing concern for the feminine. It revisits the theme of human beasts and it unites Gabrielle Deneige with Chabrolian heroines like Violette Noziere, Helene Regner from La Rupture and Marie from Une Affaire de Femmes. In the end, Gabrielle survives the men who chase her, but only just.
The TF1 release of this film was some time ago and Chabrol’s films do seem to take longer and longer to get to English friendly audiences these days. It was a very nice transfer indeed and this edition from Artificial Eye is a similar filesize and bitrate, however it has been sharpened up and the result is less impressive. Grain is heightened, edge enhancement is clearly evident and the strong blacks and shades of the TF1 release are not replicated here. This is a shame as this is one of the more fabulous looking of Chabrol’s films. I enclose screen caps from both discs for you to compare:
The TF1 disc – softer
The Artificial Eye disc – sharper, grainier
And again with more colourful shots:
More in favour of the Artificial Eye disc is the comparison between audio options as the stereo track here is recorded at a higher bitrate than the French disc. The 5.1 mixes seem to be identical though, but to be honest I didn’t notice too much in the way of difference between the stereo and 5.1 mixes other than the obvious loss of channels. I suppose having the film score around you and more ambient sound is a plus but both options worked equally well for me. Most importantly, the optional English subs are excellent, sensible, and with a real feel for the wit of the dialogue.
This release is all region, but sadly the brilliantly stylish French menus of the TF1 disc are ditched for something a lot more prosaic. In terms of extras, there is an interview in English with Sagnier which is rather unenlightening I’m afraid, and conducted in a very echoey setting. She explains that the script was based on a real life scandal in New York, that the director doesn’t do many takes, is very prepared and avoids rehearsal, and that Berleand is laidback whilst Magimel is methodical and intense.
A trailer for the film, and trailer for other Artificial Eye releases complete the package. The making of featurette from the TF1 disc is not included.
A nice package which is region free and English friendly, it’s a pity that the decision to sharpen the transfer was taken.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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