By James Van Maanen
With Claude Chabrol's newest film, A Girl Cut in Two, now opening in New York, moviegoers may further observe one of France's top young actresses in yet another interesting role. Most recently seen on this side of the Atlantic in Christophe Honoré's Love Songs, in which she plays a pivotal part in the ensemble cast, Ludivine Sagnier will next appear here in Claude Miller's A Secret.
Miller, for my money an under-seen and under-rated director, cast Ms. Sagnier in his large ensemble in a riveting story that spans four generations of Jews: pre-, during and post-Holocaust. The tale flips back and forth in time, and the director/adaptor (from Philippe Grimberg's novel) sees to it that we view the Holocaust from unusual angles, most of them specific and personal, rather than via the large-canvas, atrocity-filled manner to which we've become accustomed. I reviewed the film in more detail when it screened as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series last March. Six months later, it's as strong as ever in my memory, and I'd still call it a "Don't Miss."
Regarding Chabrol, it seems to me that his later films, particularly Comedy of Power and now A Girl Cut in Two grow ever more subtle and rigorous. He is still concerned, of course, with the haute bourgeoisie, their hypocrisies and addiction to power, but he is content to let us in on all this via bits of conversation. We see almost nothing of the specific evils, sexual and criminal, that go on. For this director, and for his older, intelligent audience, there is little need to show and tell all.
The director and co-writer (with Cecile Maistre) has cast his movie with the very best France has to offer, starting with Ms. Sagnier. She's bright, eager, smart, thoughtful, needy, loving, hurt and most everything else a girl can expect out of the French television industry, a well-heeled heel of an older lover (François Berléand, as good as ever) and a young man in loving pursuit of her who is as rich, nasty and nutty as they get. Though based upon the early 20th Century scandal involving Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White and Harry Kendall Thaw (which was also the basis for Richard Fleischer's 1955 film The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing), Chabrol's movie is so French and cerebral that any comparison is dead in the water.
Another young, hot French actor, Benoîot Magimel (whom Chabrol is said to have cast because he feels that Magimel can handle any character of any class) gives one of the most florid and hateful performances I can recall. And I mean that as high praise. Caroline Sihol is properly cold, vicious and smart as his mother; Mathilda May makes a gaunt and sexy friend and ex of Berléand, with Valeria Cavalli a loving dishrag as his "saint' of a wife; Marie Bunel (as Sagnier's intelligent, devoted and very mistaken mother) completes the ensemble.
I recently spoke with Ludivine Sagnier on the second floor lounge of NYC's shabby-chic Soho Grand hotel (pets are permitted!). Blond and glowing, Ms. Sagnier is five months pregnant (and rubbing her tummy almost constantly as we speak). "We're all animals," she tells me with a smile, as I comment on the tummy-rub.
Do you know if it's a girl or boy?
It's a girl.
So you'll have two girls. [She already has a three-year-old.]
Before we get into you, I have one question about the info that appears in the press kit for A Girl Cut in Two, buried in the interview with Claude Chabrol. In speaking about his use of framing, the director says, "When the characters are running from themselves, I shoot them in profile to emphasize that they are revealing only a small facet of the truth. In any case, there were some lines the actors could not deliver straight to the camera." What does he mean by this? What lines could you not deliver straight to the camera?
I think he means to say that everybody is hiding something. Because the characters are lying to themselves, he shoots them in profile. In this film, all the characters are sometimes lying to themselves. They are all "cut in two."
Really - not only your character? The girl of the title, who is cut in two.
No. I think that all of them are, in some way.
Interesting. It's true that most of the people we see are lying to themselves or each other. Only the character of your mother seems somewhat free of this.
It may be. But although she seems supportive of her daughter, in some ways she pushes her toward Paul, and thus toward danger. Chabrol told me that perhaps she is jealous of her daughter's relationship with the older man. It's funny, but when I talked about this with my own mother, even she laughed and said, "Oh - François Berléand! I am so jealous - he is gorgeous!"
Well, it's nice to know that as we age, some people still find older men attractive. But I suspect that is true more in Europe than here.
Yes, here - and I don't want to be mean - but I think that American people have a problem with aging.
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