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Tag Archives: French film


Benoit Magimel and Ludivine Sagnier

Benoit Magimel and Ludivine Sagnier

Happily, monolingual English-speakers such as myself only ever get to watch the ‘good’ French films: translation into subtitling takes time and money – so why bother with anything but the worthy? Two new imports worth your time and your money are as follows:

Claude Chabrol’s latest do, A Girl Cut in Two, and Guillame Canet’s sophomore (but never sophomoric) release, Tell No One. (A Girl was originally released in France in 2007, and Tell No One as far back as 2006. They’ve only just hit American theatres – different time zones, remember – and that matters only because the New York Times recently listed them among ‘this year’s’ best films.)

            Chabrol, certifiably an auteur, and Canet, a relative newcomer, have produced two very different films (don’t let the “in French with subtitles” grouping fool you). Canet’s Tell No One is a generic thriller, and proudly so –  “Hitchcockian” as so many American critics fairly wet their pants remarking. There’s similar mystery, suspense and intrigue: a woman who may or may not be dead, a hero who may or may not be going insane, a fabulous foot race chase sequence across a busy highway, and a group of ambiguously connected assassins. And further ecstasy-inducing to critics is the next oft-made comparison, to Howard Hawks’s inscrutable 1946 film noir, The Big Sleep. Except that Canet wraps up his winding plot – if not believably – then neatly, and to good effect.

            We’ve experienced all the thrills before, but not since Die Hard presented with the same narrative economy (everything – and I mean everything – seen in Tell No One, you see for a reason), and rarely with such heart. There’s even a ‘big picture’ theme – that is, the protection of children at all costs. And even after all the death and obfuscation, the movie suggests how precious and vulnerable innocence really is.

            On the other hand, there’s little ‘innocent’ (or that remains untouched) about A Girl Cut in Two. Despite a comparatively linear narrative – local Lyons weathergirl Gabrielle Deneige (Ludivine Sagnier) gets trapped between two men: the older, debauched author Charles Saint-Denis (Francois Berleand, who also plays the detective in Tell No One) and the troubled dandy Paul Gaudens (Benoit Magimel, both hilarious and disturbing) – A Girl is rather more enigmatic than Tell No One (which is supposed to be the mystery here), less generic, more typically ‘arthouse’-ambiguous. In hindsight, the whole narrative may be little more than an excuse to reach the final, literal and symbolic severing of Gabrielle Deneige – but as excuses go, it’s greatly diverting.

            Chabrol inserts theme into narrative more deliberately even than Canet has done with his otherwise cut-and-paste thriller. Deneige means ‘snow’ in French, and much is made of Gabrielle’s youth by other, more jaded characters. But Gabrielle is not so much caught between an older and younger lover as between two unstoppable forces of corruption. As Charles remarks early on, French society is paralyzed between dueling forces of Puritanism and decadence – It’s unclear to me (and I think purposefully so) which lover represents which: Paul, from conservative, Catholic old-money is also a masochistic sociopath; and Charles, Gabrielle’s ‘true love’ and father figure, is depraved to the point of sadism. Up against these two, no amount of youthful innocence can survive in Gabrielle.

Maybe it’s a little much for Chabrol to position his abused heroine as national symbol. Maybe it’s a little much for Canet to force-feed his arguably saccharine sentimentality into an otherwise bitter genre. Ok, they’re broad strokes, but they make their point well: decadence is decay, and it’s lovely to watch.