L’Amant Double (Double Lover) (2017)
François Ozon (“Frantz” (2016), “In the House” (2013)) is a French director who is uninhibited when it comes to portraying sexuality/erotica on screen and was exploring it freely in his past films “Jeune et Jolie” (2013) and “Swimming Pool” (2003). His latest psychological thriller “L’Amant Double” is another testament to this director’s fascinating way of portraying psychologically interesting scenarios and sensuality/sexuality on screen. Based on a book by Joyce Carol Oates, “L’Amant Double” presents Chloé (Marine Vacth), a young woman who seeks help for her psychosomatic stomach pains from a psychoanalyst Paul (Jérémie Renier). It is not long before Chloé and Paul fall in love and move in together, and all is going well until Chloé becomes troubled by her lover’s personal secrets. This erotically-charged film is not without its problems, but it explores the nature of personal identity from an interesting angle, portrays sexually-charged romance unflinchingly, and plays with our beliefs, expectations and what-if questions. In the end, ‘L’Amant Double” becomes a film not so much about an obsessive romance and morbid fascinations as about the question of the extent to which one’s imagination can overrun one’s sanity and eventually completely undermine one’s perception of reality.
It takes a brave director to show the insides of a naked woman’s intimate parts as one of the film’s opening scenes, but that is exactly what Ozon does. Designed to shock and provoke, this scene of Chloé on a medical examination table quickly sets the tone for what is to follow and makes Lanthimos’s opening shot of a heart surgery in “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (2017) look like a child’s play. The first interesting aspect of “L’Amant Double” is the characters. Chloé is the exact opposite of Paul. If Paul has a self-assured, quiet demeanour, remaining mysterious, Chloé is a hotpot of emotions, being frankly open about her problems and how Paul can help her. The audience immediately sides with Chloé because it knows what to expect, and then it is easy to be fascinated by Paul and his secrets. The thing is, apparently, Paul has an identical twin brother, and there would not be anything unusual about it if Paul was not so secretive and mysterious about it. When Chloé meets Louis, she is in for a surprise and so are we.
The sources of inspiration behind the look and themes of “L’Amant Double” are evident. “Repulsion” (1965), “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), “Dead Ringers” (1988) and “Black Swan” (2010) all seem to have been “consulted” to produce “L’Amant Double”. In the film, we have a situation not that dissimilar to the situation from “Dead Ringers” where two identical brothers circle a female character, but if that film puts its female character on a side track, “L’Amant Double” put its female character in the driving seat. What we get then is the delirium of a film, which finds itself not too far away from “Repulsion” and “Black Swan”. Vacth gives a convincing enough performance as someone who is confused by the events in her life, but we also sense complete vulnerability, guilt and family trauma residing somewhere deep within Chloé. Chloé, with her distinctive short haircut, resembles Rosemary from “Rosemary’s Baby” in the final part of the film, and we cannot help but wonder whether all the character ever wanted was just to be understood and accepted. This will explain her complete openness to Paul at the beginning, and, as Paul was hiding himself from her, she presumed that there was no other remedy open to her, but to flee to a more straightforward brother, who is not hiding too much and who can provide all the answers to her.
I do not usually refer to other critics in my reviews, but when Odie Henderson from the Roger Ebert site compared ‘L’Amant Double” to “dreadful” “Colour of Night” (1994), it is evident he completely missed the point of “L’Amant Double” and this “insult” is completely unjustified. Perhaps it is the case that French films are more uninhibited when it comes to showing some extra bits of erotica, for example see “Betty Blue” (1986), but that should not necessarily mean that a film is of a low quality or it does not have depth or meaning. Showing more sex scenes or nakedness maybe just another way to introduce a taboo, provocative dimension to a movie, which makes the audience marvel at the audacity of the characters or makes them wonder whether some surprising sexual behaviour hints at underlying traumas of a character. In fact, one way to view “L’Amant Double” is precisely along these latter lines. In the first part of “L’Amant Double”, Chloé tells that she had her love affairs and she worked as a model in the past, something which she does not like to do now. It is perfectly feasible that she may have had some traumatic sexual experience when younger and this may explain her uncontrolled and unhealthy sexual obsession with Louis. This is only guesswork, but it also may explain why we view so much erotica in the film: this issue preoccupies the story since it may have been that which has emotionally or psychologically “damaged” Chloé in the past. The solution, then, may lie here as well.
Following from this, some may say that Chloé’s attraction to Louis is too unreasonable/unbelievable, but, actually, it could be one of the most fascinating and certainly true-to-life aspects of this film. The fact that Chloé is completely taken by the twin brother of her lover may be completely understandable. There could few things in life more awe-inspiring than looking at someone and realising that that someone shares the physical appearance of your loved one completely, 100 percent. The feeling is exhilarating and mind-boggling, largely because you may have grown to love that appearance, and the paradox now is that a complete stranger is before you –an impostor of your loved one. It is like nature’s witchcraft, only it is all real and scientifically explained. Chloé’s dilemmas are fascinating here, and Ozon also couples all that with Cronenberg’s body-horror. The influence of Cronenberg is undeniable in the movie and one scene looks like it was almost copied from one of Cronenberg’s films. This is not to say that Ozon was not creative, and, in fact, his direction is almost exemplary, as evidenced by his nomination for a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival 2017.
It is true that, during some “L’Amant Double” scenes, there is a feeling like one watches an almost below-average TV thriller with a bit confused and silly premise and overt sexual content. However, underneath, there is much imbedded symbolism and meaning to be found. For example, the theme of cats is driving the film forward. Chloé has a cat Milo, which Paul, her lover, does not like. By loving Milo, Chloé shows herself loving, and craving warmth and affection, while we immediately subconsciously distance ourselves from Paul. We know that cats are independent creatures by nature, and, in the film, all three characters strive in some way to achieve that status, but without much success. Paul and Louis may live separate lives, but they remain permanently psychologically and emotionally intertwined, even if by the secret they share. Chloé also cannot find a right balance between dependency and independence, and that is most evident in her relationship with her mother.
The most lamentable aspect of the film is its final part and the twist, which, apart from being a bit preposterous, is also not presented well. The problem with the ending is that the plot, as it has been unveiled, is more fascinating, and the ending does not assault the imagination quite so much. Despite this, one of the most admirable features of the film is that we had all the clues as to the twist/ending right before us, but we, together with Chloé, refused to take them seriously and just let ourselves be fooled by the theatre of doubles. Like Chloé, our morbid fascination and attention was so much on the twins, their mysteries, and all the sex, that we did not even consider that the reality can be more attuned to mundane explanations, daily practicalities and text-book medicine. We do not really listen to Chloé, being fooled by the twins, but the story gives all the hints at the beginning when a gynaecologist refers Chloé to a psychiatrist.
“L’Amant Double” may be described as a bit tasteless and too frank in its presentation, but it is a psychologically interesting account regardless. The film’s final part and twist is a bit silly and unbelievable, the weakest link, which could have been presented more effectively and intriguingly to justify its premise. However, the film is still a stylish, erotically-enticing thriller, which is deeper and more complex than first meets the eye and which can keep you guessing until the very end. 7/10