Having consolidated his reputation with the ambiguously resolved Anglo-French erotic thriller Swimming Pool in 2003, it’s little surprise to see François Ozon returning to such fertile territory nearly fifteen years later. If you’ve the stomach to get past the gynaecologist’s view opening (the French don’t seem to mind this stuff; Swimming Pool was universally rated over there while needing to be cut to avoid an NC-17 in the US over its sex and nudity), L’Amant Double is essentially Ozon’s homage to Hitchcock, and Vertigo in particular.
It stars Marine Vacth as Chloé, and as anyone who knows their Paris fashion houses will be aware, Vacth has been modelling for a company called Chloé these last several years, a perfect indication of the kind of meta- and intra-textuality that Ozon has created his loose adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ American novel Lives of the Twins around. The film begins with Chloé being referred to a psychologist, having been told the stomach pains she’s been suffering have no medical origin, and pretty soon the unemployed 26-year-old is feeling better enough to get herself a job as a watchwoman at a museum – largely because she’s fallen for Daniel Craig lookalike Jérémie Renier’s Paul. So she leaves his practice and moves into his apartment, but before she’s been there 24 hours she spots Paul in a part of town he denies visiting, and upon returning the following day discovers the office of another psychologist Louis, a dead ringer for the man she’s just set up home with.
That’s just the first act, and there’s little subtlety in the way Ozon assembles his elements; here’s a sexually driven psychological thriller involving psychologists and (pussy) cats, with a vast amount of camera close-ups and shot dissolves involving characters replicating across the screen and a heavy focus on the eyes (and other body parts). There’s an overwhelming sheen of cleverness to the script and production, which belies the notion that the viewer would be well recommended to hand in their thinking faculties at the opening credits; despite Ozon’s reverence for his sources and obsession with creating a visually stimulating puzzle-box of a film, in the end this is a story about imagined truth and the resolution to it will, rather than making you re-think everything you’ve seen, instead put you in mind of Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole. The one piece of unambiguous exposition given in the resolve robs almost everything else you’ve seen of any credibility, such that if you try to add any single part of the narrative up, you’ll find the numbers wanting.
Having said that, it’s the journey that’s important, and both Vacth and Renier (especially the latter, who very subtly delineates his two characters through the countenance of his face, so that you’re never in any doubt which is which) are as pretty and as elegant as the rest of the picture. Unfortunately, the one thing neither actor can bring is a sense of the two lovers enjoying one another as people, but Ozon quickly skips past the courtship and dives straight into the bedroom, where there are plenty of mind-bending fireworks instead. This is a very cool, very Gallic, and very opaque Basic Instinct, and if it’s ultimately only partly satisfying, it’s still incredibly absorbing and a lot of fun.
Extras: trailer, deleted scenes, lights and costume trials, interview featurette
REVIEW: L’AMANT DOUBLE (aka DOUBLE LOVER) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: FRANÇOIS OZON / SCREENPLAY: FRANÇOIS OZON / STARRING: MARINE VACTH, JÉRÉMIE RENIER, JACQUELINE BISSET, MYRIAM BOYER, DOMINIQUE REYMOND / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW