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A sardonic tale of duality filtered through class differences, "La Fille coupee en deux" heads toward a deft denouement via veteran helmer Claude Chabrol's trademark black humor.

A sardonic tale of duality filtered through class differences, “La Fille coupee en deux” heads toward a deft denouement via veteran helmer Claude Chabrol’s trademark black humor. With language and mannerisms that are laugh-out-loud funny, Lyons-set story of a local TV weather girl who is simultaneously pursued by two very different men eviscerates the non-charm of the bourgeoisie. While not a classic, this is a pleasantly disturbing, nominally voyeuristic romp in the territory Chabrol knows best. Local reception should be friendly (pic opens today) and offshore sales a definite possibility following pic’s Venice out-of-competition screening.

Benoit Magimel — who is well on his way to illuminating as many Chabrol films as has Isabelle Huppert — gives a priceless perf as Paul Gaudens, the spoiled-rotten heir to a pharmaceutical fortune. Dandyish Paul’s sense of entitlement is as big as the Ritz: He leaves his convertible where he pleases and stares at parking tickets as if somebody had deposited excrement on his windshield. Paul’s youthful factotum, Franck (Jeremie Chaplain), anticipates Paul’s every need and smoothes out any social bumps.

Perky Gabrielle Deneige (Ludivine Sagnier), who presents the weather on TV, has an admirable work ethic. She wouldn’t mind a promotion but seems to value her private life over her career. Gabrielle lives modestly with her mother (Marie Bunel), who works at a bookstore.

When successful writer Charles Saint-Denis (Francois Berleand) is interviewed at the TV station, sparks fly between Gabrielle and the vet author. Their flirtation continues at a book signing and, despite a hefty age difference, Gabrielle is soon emotionally and carnally smitten. The pair tryst at Charles’ pied-a-terre in town.

Charles lives in an impossibly modern house in the countryside with his more-than-devoted wife of 25 years, Dona (Valeria Cavalli). Their rock-solid complicity is constantly conveyed in words and, more crucially, deeds. Charles also enjoys a special bond with his editor, Capucine Jamet (Mathilda May), whose professional assurance and pragmatic sensuality are always in tune.

Paul hates Charles and apparently always has. At Charles’ book signing, the flamboyant, handsome heir — who is also possibly nuts — also takes an instant shine to Gabrielle. The question then arises whether Gabrielle is dealing with two Prince Charmings, two Princes of Darkness or just two toads.

Chabrol employs narrative ellipses to hint at parallel circles of dark secrets. Sagnier manages to sock across the idea that a relatively sweet young woman could fall for a guy three decades her senior. Magimel, abetted by a wacky haircut and flashy wardrobe, pulls out all the stops with take-notice aplomb.

The personification of old money, Caroline Sihol is superb as Paul’s perfectly bred mother, who is allergic to the commoner her son has fixated upon. And, as in “Comedy of Power,” Chabrol provides a delectable turn for his son, Thomas, here as a high-priced lawyer. Matthieu Chabrol’s score is aces.

For the record, script — co-written with Chabrol’s longtime assistant director and stepdaughter, Cecile Maistre — was inspired by the New York murder of architect Stanford White in 1906.

La Fille coupee en deux

France-Germany

Production

A Wild Bunch Distribution release of a Patrick Godeau presentation of an Aliceleo Cinema, Aliceleo, Rhone-Alpes Cinema, France 2 Cinema (France)/Integral Film (Germany) production, with participation of Canal Plus, CineCinema. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Patrick Godeau. Executive producer, Francoise Galfre. Directed by Claude Chabrol. Screenplay, Chabrol, Cecile Maistre.

Crew

Camera (color), Eduardo Serra; editor, Monique Fardoulis; music, Matthieu Chabrol; production designer, Francoise Benoit-Fresco; costume designer, Mic Cheminal; sound (Dolby), Thierry Lebon; assistant director, Maistre; casting, Maistre. Reviewed at Club de l'Etoile screening room, Paris, Aug. 1, 2007. (Also in Venice Film Festival -- Venice Masters.) Running time: 114 MIN.

With

Ludivine Sagnier, Francois Berleand, Benoit Magimel, Mathilda May, Caroline Sihol, Etienne Chicot, Marie Bunel, Valeria Cavalli, Thomas Chabrol, Jeremie Chaplain, Jean-Marie Winling, Didier Benureau, Edouard Baer. (French dialogue)
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