I'm not sure why I keep approaching films from French director Claude Chabrol with great anticipation, since while they continue to be well-mounted and well-acted, his psychological thrillers are no longer exactly thrilling. "Bellamy" which I reviewed below at the recent London Film Festival is a case in point, and this one from two years earlier was equally unrewarding. One sits there wondering where in the world the story is headed and even after it reaches its peak, one thinks 'was that really worth the journey?'
Our heroine here is Ludivine Sagnier, one of the less good-looking in a long line of stunning French ingenues -- although she has been glammed up here -- playing a rather naive, yet charming, TV weather girl, Gabrielle. It is something of a stretch to understand why she seems to be so irresistible to all of the men she encounters, from her station manager to aging local celebrity author (Francois Berleand) to a somewhat unstable young playboy (Benoit Magimel) who falls head over heels at his first glimpse of her. Both Magimel's Paul and Berleand's Saint-Denis pursue her ruthlessly, but she only has eyes for the married author and is soon a frequent visitor to his little lovenest for regular sex sessions. On her birthday, as a special treat, he takes her to his club where his old lascivious cronies foam at the mouth at her attractiveness. He then takes her upstairs; while nothing is shown, there is the suggestion, later confirmed, that he has invited them to share a piece of the birthday cake so to speak.
The next day he tells her that he is going to London for a few days, having told his saintly wife that he is likely to be away for some time, and when Gabrielle goes to his flat, she finds the locks have been changed. She takes to bed at this rejection and only her mother's intervention, asking the persistent Paul to take her away, eventually brings her back to life. They go to Portugal where he showers her with gifts and affection, which she receives greedily but for which she gives nothing in return. When he threatens to leave, saying he has had enough of her pining, she offers to marry him per his frequent pleas. It is quite clear that she does not love him but that she can't stand the thought of being alone. In addition, there has been the implication throughout that Paul probably is AC/DC, swinging both ways. After their marriage, he is apparently horrified at some of the sexual practices that she has undoubtedly learned from St. Denis and she rather stupidly has also told him about the club visit. This leads to a final showdown between her two lovers and effectively the end of both relationships.
There is a juicy (that's the relevant word) role for Matilda May playing St. Denis' agent and sexual conspirator, still hugely attractive now in her forties, and the balance of the cast are also very able, especially the actress playing Paul's icy socialite mother. However, what annoyed me most were all of the unanswered questions which may have served to produce a more well-rounded scenario, but which were frustratingly left unexplained. Why, for example, did Paul have such a deep-seated hatred of St. Denis? Why did one of Paul's two younger and uptight sisters appear to have such a roving eye for anything in pants? And what real relevance did Paul's mother's telling Gabrielle of a tragic incident from his childhood have in explaining his somewhat warped behaviour?
The film ends with Gabrielle's taking part in her uncle's magic act, where she lies on a table smiling, ready to produce the illusion that she is being sawn in two. I would guess that Chabrol saw this as a nifty illustration of her emotional history with Paul and St. Denis, but it was a somewhat trite and obvious metaphor for what had transpired during the previous two hours.