L’Amant Double

Review by Manuela Lazic

Directed by

François Ozon

Starring

Jacqueline Bisset Jérémie Renier Marine Vacth

Anticipation.

Ozon’s flair for bizarre emotions should be put to great use in a story of psychological duality.

Enjoyment.

Sex, lies and psychoanalysis has never been more entertaining.

In Retrospect.

A strong contender for best film in the ‘twins are scary’ genre.

This twisty psycho-thriller from François Ozon sees a perplexed young woman dating identical shrinks.

The title of François Ozon’s latest may seem silly in its obviousness, but he isn’t the first director to give away a key plot point of double vision before the opening credits roll. Brian De Palma’s Body Double, in which a man finds himself spying on the grisly murder of a woman, uses the protagonist’s arduous discovery of the titular duality as the source of all its suspense. The way he deals with the consequences, meanwhile, makes for a series of unpredictable and surreal events.

L’Amant Double is no doubt indebted to De Palma beyond its title. Like the American director did with films such as Body Double and, even more evidently so, Dressed to Kill, Ozon explores psychoanalysis with a schlocky, literal approach and through the use of arresting, graphic visuals. He makes Freud’s well-known (or at least popular) ideas about transference perversely fascinating and cinematic.

Chloé, played with utmost French grace by Marine Vacth (the star of Ozon’s 2013 film Jeune et Jolie), has forever been tortured by strange stomach aches that no doctor has been able to explain. The problem, it seems, is psychological. She starts seeing Doctor Paul Meyer (the excellent Jérémie Renier). Typically, the psychoanalyst doesn’t say much during their sessions, allowing the lonely 25-year-old to talk about her fears and, naturally, her mother.

Ozon films these musings with a deconstructing camera. Chloé is reflected in mirrors, seen from all angles, her face doubled as she talks of contradictory emotions that add up to a broken person. Her pain is palpable, if not explained. Ozon wastes no time on the medical particulars: soon enough, sweet-natured Paul admits to having feelings for Chloe and refuses to keep treating her. She starts feeling better and they move in together.

Paul does indeed turn out to be a sort of double lover: after Chloé discovers that he adopted his mother’s name when he started his practice, she sees a man who looks exactly like him outside another psychoanalysis office. On this doctor’s plaque, the last name is the same as Paul’s father’s.

Dead ringer stories have to go beyond the idea of two people being the same to be truly worth telling. What keeps L’Amant Double exciting is Ozon’s careful crafting of the narrative around Chloé and her game of double duty with Paul and Louis, his twin brother. With her lies she builds a house of cards that threatens to fall at any moment, especially with Louis’ ruthless nature making her that much more anxious. Renier is able to show off his acting chops as the two doctors are radically opposite: Paul is as kind and conventional as Louis is cruel and perverse.

“When I’m with you, I think about him. When I’m with him, I think about you,” Chloé tells Louis (who unapologetically revels in his own opinion that he must give more pleasure to Chloé that Paul ever could), summing up the nature of her fractured identity. Ozon, as the ambitious and eccentric director that he is, takes this psychoanalytic dimension to another level when Chloé’s bipolar existence becomes too much for her. His editing masterfully blends routine and anxiety throughout, but it is when he falls into the dreamlike and the depraved that his diagnosis becomes amusingly twisted and formally exciting.

Ever determined to unsettle and entertain, Ozon also grounds his film in reality with a resolution that ties (most of) the threads together. Chloé’s ordeal can be explained, but the psychological dilemmas of which it comprises are more interesting that the hard science. Her profound sadness is what remains most striking, and Ozon’s unusual yet tender approach to a female character in crisis is admirable. A genre film taking a woman to the extremes of sanity while always honouring her emotions, L’Amant Double is a bold and often disturbing spectacle. In many ways, this is what cinema is all about.

Published 31 May 2018

Tags: François Ozon French Cinema Jérémie Renier Marine Vacth

Anticipation.

Ozon’s flair for bizarre emotions should be put to great use in a story of psychological duality.

Enjoyment.

Sex, lies and psychoanalysis has never been more entertaining.

In Retrospect.

A strong contender for best film in the ‘twins are scary’ genre.

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