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September 16, 2014

La fille coupée en deux

by Franz Patrick


Fille coupée en deux, La (2007)
★ / ★★★★

Charles Saint-Denis (François Berléand) is persuaded by a friend to come out of seclusion in the country to promote his most recent novel. While signing books at a local bookstore owned by Marie (Marie Bunel), a big fan of his work, Marie’s daughter, Gabrielle (Ludivine Sagnier), is approached by the author, at least thirty years her senior, since the two have somewhat met each other the night before while out getting drinks. Charles and Gabrielle eventually start to get intimate but this does not stop Paul (Benoît Magimel), a young man from a wealthy background, from pursuing Gabrielle the TV weather girl.

Written by Cécile Maistre and Claude Chabrol, like a wannabe edgy sitcom doomed to get its plug pulled in its freshman year, “La fille coupée en deux” is deadly dull because the screenplay, for the most part, functions on autopilot. It isn’t that it is hopeless from start to finish. Several points of conflict are introduced like a laundry list but it does not dare to break out of checking off whatever is necessary—and expected—to move the plot forward. Not for one second did I believe that the decisions and behaviors that the characters take part in can happen out there in the world. Even if it were a fantasy, it is the filmmakers’ job to make us believe that it could happen.

For some reason, Paul cannot stand the sight of Charles. Naturally, we assume that the reason would be revealed later on but, much to our dismay, there is no explanation offered. Initially, Charles feels awkward about bedding someone so young and yet neither Berléand nor the filmmakers fail to communicate the excitement Charles experiences in being with Gabrielle. What exactly does he find so alluring about her?

Conversely, aside from Gabrielle’s obvious daddy issues, what does she see in him that make other people’s judgments about them worth enduring? When the two end up in bed together, I expected to feel either creeped out because of the vast age difference or completely believing the romance divorced from the big elephant in the room.

Instead, when I observed them kiss, hug, or touch each other, it is like staring at a slab of frozen meat on a counter—it is there but entirely unexciting. There is a drought of chemistry between the actors and the way the camera maintains a certain level of detachment during the highs and lows of the relationship comes across flat to the point of somnolence.

Eventually, it is Gabrielle and Paul’s turn to make something work. While Paul is a more interesting option than Charles because of his emotional instability, there is a lack of chemistry, too. Magimel’s performance is not controlled enough. Although understandable to an extent because Paul is about extremes, it is expected, I was taken out of the experience when in one scene Paul has an amusing wit and darkness about him but in the next scene, he comes off as a clown.

Directed by Claude Chabrol, “La fille coupée en deux,” also known as “The Girl Cut in Two,” possesses a glimmer of a promising start, with an undercurrent of dark comedy, but the writers fail put any spice into the mix in order to keep us engaged. Since the story is, in its core, about human relationships, it is strange that we neither get to know nor care about the characters’ problems. In the end, it ends up as limp as a bad penis joke.

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