Dark, twisted, though definitely not the ‘sexy’ romp it’s been described to be, François Ozon’s L’Amant Double (“The Double Lover”) is above-all-else a piece of provocative cinema. Rather predictably, then, it ends up being a terribly male rendering of female desire – one that’s only marginally more profound than a “she wants it” prognosis.
The film primarily follows the plight of Chloé (Marine Vacth), a young woman whose loneliness is rather unimaginatively expressed in her owning of a cat. This is an erotic thriller, however, and so it’s the sultry connotations of the feline’s double entendre that soon become more apt for this particular film.
Chloé has suffered from peculiar stomach pains for a number of years now – with doctors unable to ascertain what’s actually wrong with her. Indeed, the film opens (quite literally) with one of Chloé’s gynecology exams – an early indication of Ozon’s smug exploitation of sexuality and its often uncomfortable essence. Should we feel embarrassed by a close-up of a clitoris? Perhaps not, but there remains something innately dubious about the male manipulation of the female body for artistic gain. Ozon’s only just started, however, and if you think a vagina-cam is overstepping the mark, the next 100 minutes won’t be particularly pleasant either.
Feeling increasingly isolated and frustrated by the doctors’ lack of progress, Chloé meets with Paul (Jérémie Renier), a psychoanalyst whose composure and reticence seems to relieve her abdominal discomfort. He’s also terribly handsome, which conveniently cures loneliness. The two hit it off, but with greater intimacy comes uncovered secrets – and Chloé grows increasingly paranoid about his family history. If you hadn’t already guessed it by the title (or the ludicrous mirror overload – does Ozon think he’s stumbled upon a revolutionary metaphor?), Paul’s shady personal life involves a twin, Louis, who’s also a psychoanalyst. What ensues is an initially bizarre, then categorically absurd meandering on repressed sexuality, dominance/submission, and all those other banal Freudian motifs.
While Chloé is presented as our protagonist – she leads the film, the story is ostensibly told through her perspective – it’s a story that nevertheless remains a distinctly male one. That’s not to say men shouldn’t direct female-led films, nor should the protagonist we’re given always in fact be the real protagonist. It’s just dangerous territory – increasingly so given the climate in cinema at the moment. Sexuality is an unavoidable, essential component to this film, but there seemed to be an irresponsibly gleeful approach taken by Ozon for its several moments of sexual violence. The intensity with which Ozon charges these sequences, while somewhat inevitable, only seemed to pose more questions about authorial responsibility on Ozon’s behalf – yet another male European provocateur given a free pass because it’s ‘artistic’.
Still, there’s no faulting the actors, who all breathe tremendous life into these otherwise absurd individuals – to such an extent that their ridiculous characterisations almost make sense (almost). Manuel Dacosse’s cinematography boasts some striking compositions (mirror overload aside), while Chloé’s affinity for 50s Americana lounge music was a welcome treat on the ears.
Unfortunately, it remains a grossly misjudged handling of its precarious subject matter – and for that one looks only to its auteurist director.
Dir: François Ozon
Scr: François Ozon
Cast: Marine Vacth, Jérémie Renier
Prd: Éric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer
DOP: Manuel Dacosse
Music: Philippe Rombi
Country: France, Belgium
Runtime: 110 minutes
L’Amant Double is in UK cinemas now.