One of the things I often read about Benoît Magimel is that he is at ease in both art and popular movies.
It’s quite true if you take a look at his filmography. If you look even closer, you’ll notice he appeared in the classic French New Wave director Claude Chabrol’s movies more frequently than he did in others.
The two worked together at least three times. While I appreciated Magimel’s acting for the most part, I was not a die-hard fan of all three.
My first Charbrol-Magimel encounter was A Girl Cut in Two (La Fille coupée en deux, 2007). It really wasn’t the best introduction. I did not find the film enjoyable nor artistic. Based on a true murder case, it was unnecessarily long with a puzzling abstract ending of the leading female character getting sliced in half in her imaginary magic show, like…what??
The plot involved the sweet TV weather girl Gabrielle (Ludivine Sagnier) romancing the famous author Charles (François Berléand) while being pursued by the mentally unstable pharmaceutical heir Paul (Benoît Magimel). She quickly fell in love with the charming yet much older writer, and was subject to some weird sexual practices (never explicitly explained) at a private club he belonged to. Like an easily bored man of his status would do, he ended their secret extramarital affair abruptly without any communications. Gabrielle, shocked and heart-broken, decided to marry the persistent Paul. But it was obvious she was still very much in grief. At a rich-people filled social gala all of them attended, the jealous Paul shot his rival dead.
Common in Chabrol’s work, the movie spotlighted social class, particularly the absurdity of the upper class. Although once the prize of the two rich suitors, Gabrielle was never accepted by the high-minded mother of Paul and abandoned right after she testified in court. She basically helped protect Charles’ legacy as a writer and reduce her ex-husband’s sentence. After that, she suddenly became worthless. Paul and his family saw no point keeping her and Charles’s elite friends would probably no longer come in contact with her. Of regular, middle-class roots, she was not one of them after all.
Playing the potentially psychotic Paul, Magimel and the director both had a lot of fun with the character. Actually, he might have said this was his favorite acting experience with Chabrol. In the behind-the-scene clips of the film, Chabrol personally acted out various parts while allowing Magimel to dramatize the humor of it all. Together they created a nail-biting and silky scarf-wearing rich kid who was a ruthless driver, flamboyant greeter, and temperamental abuser. The actor had mentioned how very few on the set understood or liked what he was doing with the character. Only Chabrol supported him all the way, which really boosted his confidence in interpreting Paul.
While I didn’t hate the comical characterization of the crazy heir and the acting of the cast in general, the movie just didn’t work for me as a whole. It could be much shorter and tighter. The making-of-the-film videos were actually a lot more fun to watch in my opinion. (Check out dailymotion.com.)
Luckily, I found some comfort in the next two Chabrol-Magimel collaborations.
Image from Wikipedia.