Veteran new wave filmmaker seduces French starlet Sagnier

When a woman dates a much older man, bystanders often speculate that she has only the most superficial of motives.

In “The Girl Cut in Two,” veteran French filmmaker Claude Chabrol tells the story of one young woman for whom just the opposite is true. It stars French starlet Ludivine Sagnier as a young woman who rejects the amorous advances of a flashy, wealthy man her age, in favor of a sleazy affair with a fickle, 60 year-old father figure. Sagnier’s desire to take on the role was also motivated by the allure of a much older man: Chabrol. “The idea of working with Claude Chabrol was the main attraction at the beginning,” she told CNN. “He is a great French director, one of the pioneers of the French New Wave.” “The guy has so much experience. I felt like I was a journalist, always asking things,” continues Sagnier. “He’s very old … he’s been through many, many things. This was his 66th movie, or something like that.” Sagnier describes her character, Gabrielle de Neige, a charming, 20-something television weather girl, as “very naive.” “She falls in a trap like a poor little lamb and she gets eaten by wolves. “The thing is, she doesn’t have a dad, so she lacks affection, and sometimes that lack of affection can drive you to make mistakes. “I’d say I’m stronger than that,” says 29 year-old Sagnier, who is perhaps best-known for her provocative portrayal of a highly-sexualized teenager opposite Charlotte Rampling in Francois Ozon’s 2003 drama, “Swimming Pool.”

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Sagnier who is often compared with screen sirens like Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve, drew international acclaim for a series of films in 2002 and 2003, but has recently has been taking smaller roles. Many of the qualities that attracted Sagnier to Chabrol are similar to those that draw her on-screen alter-ego Gabrielle to writer Charles Saint-Denis (Francois Berleand) — Charles’ knowledge of life, literature and his ability to treat her like a little girl, not as an equal. Sagnier says of working with Chabrol: “It was like opening a cinema book, because when you work with him he talks to you about Hitchcock, he talks to you about Kubrick. “He met everyone, so he’s full of anecdotes, so you want to know more.” Chabrol began his career in 1956, earning his stripes alongside fellow New Wave directors Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut. He became famous in the late 1960s for suspense thrillers such as “La Femme Infidele” (1969) and “Le Boucher” (1971). He has continued working prolifically in film and television ever since. Chabrol co-wrote the screenplay for the heartbreak drama, in which Sagnier character is consistently disappointed in love and let down by the men around her, with his step-daughter, Cecile Maistre, who also served as assistant director on the film. At the end of “The Girl Cut In Two,” Sagnier appears on stage as a magician’s assistant, smiling in the spotlight as she hears applause rise from the audience, the attention perhaps curing her depression over lovers lost.

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She lies in a box, appearing to be cut in half, the trick functioning as an almost literal embodiment of the film’s title — but clearly there’s more to it than meets the eye. “She cuts into two men first of all, and she’s also cut in two different sides of her personality,” said Sagnier. “She has a part of shade and a part of lightness.” Sagnier’s fate since her collaboration with Chabrol has, thankfully, been a decidedly rosier affair: Since finishing “The Girl Cut in Two,” she has starred in Jean-Francois Richet’s, “Public Enemy No. 1,” which received more nominations than any other film at the 2009 Cesar Awards, France’s equivalent of the Oscars. The indefatigable Chabrol has recently wrapped up yet another film: “Bellamy” starring Gerard Depardieu. “The Girl Cut In Two” is released in the UK on 22 May 2009