Written by Stephen Gott
Warning: The following contains extensive plot spoilers.
Having recently had the opportunity to see one of the original films of the “nouvelle vague“, Claude Chabrol’s Les Cousins (1959), it was interesting to see Chabrol’s latest release The Girl Cut In Two (2007) and find out if he was still riding the ‘wave’. I think the answer is yes and that there’s still plenty of life in the old surfer yet. The perversity of Les Cousins is repeated here, but perhaps with more relish, by the director.
As in the earlier film, we have a character called Charles, but although he lives in the country, he is no innocent. We also have a Paul, a wealthy playboy, who to say the least is unstable. Both men have been damaged and corrupted by sexual encounters with members of authority in their youth. For reasons unclear, they dislike each other – a situation made worse by the appearance of Gabrielle, a local TV weather-girl who they both desire. Charles is a successful writer, who lives with his “saintly” wife, in a house containing paintings of female nudes and phallic like sculptures. He also owns a town appartment, where he seduces the innocent Gabrielle (interestingly, the name on the appartment door is ‘Paradise’). Later, he takes her to a private club to meet some of his friends and guides her up a spiral staircase to a twisted world of sexual perversion.
Up to this point, Gabrielle had been wearing light, soft colours, but from now on she begins to wear more blacks and greys. Infact, it’s at this point that Charles loses his interest in her, as she loses her innocence, leaving the way clear for Paul. Paul is a loose cannon, in one of Chabrols favourite targets, the bourgeoisie. His family and their friends are portrayed as mainly cold and boring, with the exception of his younger sister (who eyes up every passing male with a pulse). They literally have the power to get away with murder (Paul it seems, had drowned his elder brother,whilst a child and later, with his friends, he had kidnapped a young girl). As the film progresses, Paul realises that Gabrielle doesn’t love him and is still infatuated with the satanic like Charles and becomes more and more unstable. In a scene which echoes Les Cousins, he points an unloaded gun at Gabrielle and then at his own head. At this point of the film Gabrielle is seen to be wearing more reds and is driving around in a red sports car. In fact, Chabrol book-ends the film in a predominance of red, as if warning the viewer of the dangers with in. In a film which is loaded with Langian mis en scène,we must not forget the Hitchcockian voyeurism. Like Charles, who gets his kicks by watching Gabrielle have sex with his friends, Chabrol reminds us that we entertain ourselves by watching the lives of others, whether it be on film, TV, or in real life. At the end of the film he turns the tables on the viewer by having Gabrielle stare back at the film audience (a technique he used in the final shot of Les Bonnes Femmes in 1960).
Chabrol continues to give us his view of the world. It’s an imperfect world but a world I think he still believes in. In a kind of epilogue to the film, Gabrielle’s magician uncle (who is known as Mr Merlin) takes her to his hotel “The Renaissance”. He offers her a new beginning in his magic show, a sequence which is shot in a style similar to the films of Georges Méliès, the French filmmaker and magician who was not only in at the dawn of “Cinema” but was perhaps the man who first gave film its “Magic”.