Francois Ozon (director)
107 mins (length)
01 June 2018 (released)
28 May 2018
Francois Ozon’s 18th feature in 20 years translates as “Double Lover”, which somewhat loses the elegance of the French title. Debuting at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, in competition, Ozon’s film is a smooth story of sex, lies and duality.
Ever the provocateur, Ozon opens the film with a shot inside his lead actress, Marine Vacth. Visiting her psychiatrist because of persistent stomach trouble, Vacth’s Chloe is told her issue may be psychiatric. Paul (Jeremie Renier), the psychiatrist Chloe is recommended, listens to her talk until that pain fades, by which point he has developed feelings for her. Echoes of Rosemary’s Baby ring out as Chloe moves in with her new lover, meeting strange neighbours and uncovering hidden truths about Paul. Most concerningly, Paul is hiding the existence of a twin brother Louis, also a psychiatrist, who Chloe subsequently seeks out.
It is difficult to resist following Paul’s suit, to avoid falling in love with Chloe a little. Vacth is perfectly cast, imbuing all of Chloe’s discomfort, lust, fear and anger with a disturbing energy. It is no mistake that, as the plot develops, Chloe yo-yo’s between innocent, shy girlfriend, and sexually awoken dominatrix. Ozon is unapologetically aware of his oversexualisation of Vacth, highlighting female stereotypes at both ends of the spectrum of sexual domination fantasy. As a result, Paul and Louis are hardly more that one dimensional voyeurs, and so despite his multiple roles, Renier isn’t really given enough to work with. He ends up not so much playing two sides of the same coin as two different coins that both happen to have landed heads up.
The latter half of the film explores duality through violence, instead of sex. Certain horror tropes come into play - most effective is the use of body horror. Though struggling to communicate his thoughts on difficult themes, Ozon’s imagery is tantalising – he is playing to his strengths. The director has a knack for creating images or scenes that linger in the mind, long after the plot has been forgotten. This works for a straightforward horror, David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows for example, but here Ozon’s script trips him up. As Chloe investigates the horrible past of the twins, it is almost as if Ozon has deliberately intertwined an inconsequential subplot just for the sake of one shot. In the end, the film recognises its own unnecessary complications, and is resolved with a solution that is a little too close to “it was all a dream”.
The twin theme is an obviously constructed metaphor for inner conflict and duality, obvious being key here. Just as with his previous film, post-war drama Frantz, Ozon isn’t short of original ideas, but his execution of them fails to surprise. It is a case of self indulgence, afforded, perhaps wrongly, to a director on the strength of his status as an auteur. In the black and white setting of Frantz, ex-soldier Adrien seemed to remember the joy of life when playing a violin; his emotion matched by a world erupting into colour around him. Call it simple and effective, call it overt and maybe even a little condescending. L’amant Double follows by example, becoming eye-fodder not worthy of entering the brain, and failing to cover ground untrodden by Denis Villeneuve’s superior Enemy.