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New Release Review - L'AMANT DOUBLE

L'AMANT DOUBLE review
A young woman begins an affair with her lover's twin.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: François Ozon

Starring: Marine Vacth, Jérémie Renier, Jacqueline Bisset,  Myriam Boyer, Dominque Reymond

L'AMANT DOUBLE poster


Most great filmmakers will at some point make a movie that explores the question of identity and its malleable nature, how we see in others what we want to see, and if we can't, how we attempt to mould them into a more satisfying embodiment of our desires. Hitchcock did it with Vertigo, De Palma with Body Double, Kieslowski with The Double Life of Véronique, and the list goes on. Some movies have preyed on the paranoia that a loved one may not be the person you believe they are, or have been somehow replaced by a malevolent force - the many Body Snatchers variations, or Villeneuve's Enemy. Others have given us duos who seem to blend into one another, their identities overlapping - Bergman's Persona, Lynch's Mulholland Dr., Altman's 3 Women.

L'Amant Double, the latest from prolific French filmmaker François Ozon, takes a little from all three categories, delivering a movie about sinister doubles whose personas appear to overlap while the protagonist herself begins to question her own identity. He remains encamped in the territory he mined with last year's Frantz, in which a war widow falls for a man who claims to have been friends with her late husband, only to then question the truth of his tale. That movie was a loose remake of Ernst Lubitsch's 1932 melodrama Broken Lullaby. L'Amant Double is an equally slack take on a previous text, author Joyce Carol Oates' 1987 novel 'Lives of the Twins', previously filmed as Lies of the Twins by director Tim Hunter in 1991. You might say Ozon's recent films are themselves doubles, moulded by their creator into an image that better satisfies his taste.

L'AMANT DOUBLE

With another movie about menacing twins, David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, Ozon's film shares a fascination with gynecology, opening with an extreme close-up of the pulsating nether regions of its heroine, Cloé (Marine Vacth), as she undergoes an examination regarding pains in her stomach, which the doctor assures her are merely products of her mind. In one of the most striking visual transitions in recent cinema, Ozon match-dissolves from Chloé's vagina to a giant close-up of her eye, connecting her physical torment with her psychological anguish.

Chloé is sent to visit handsome but dull therapist Paul (Jérémie Renier), and his aid seems to be helping Chloé until he cancels her sessions, admitting that he has fallen in love with his patient. The feeling is mutual, and the pair move into an apartment together. Finding Paul's passport while unpacking, Chloé is surprised to find it lists him under a different surname to the one he's practicing under. When questioned, the defensive Paul fobs her off with a story about wishing to disassociate himself from his criminal father.

L'AMANT DOUBLE

One day while riding the bus, Chloé spots Paul speaking with a woman outside a building, miles away from his own practice. When Paul denies it was him, Chloé returns to the location and discovers it houses the practice of Louis, an exact physical double of Paul who shares the surname of his passport. Not initially revealing her connection between the two men, Chloé becomes a patient of Louis, who like his twin, is attracted to the pretty ex-model. Unlike nice guy Paul however, Louis has no qualms about mixing business with pleasure, seducing the confused Chloé and engaging her in aggressive sex in his office.

Is Chloé conducting an affair with her lover's malevolent twin brother, or has she simply conjured him from her own troubled psyche? Or could Paul and Louis, if the latter even exists, be playing games with the unknowing meat in their psycho-sexual sandwich? Ozon keeps us guessing throughout, pulling various tricks from his cinematic toolbox to add to the sense of blurring identities and psychological distress. Visually, the movie is reminiscent of the recent, European set work of De Palma, and Ozon peppers his film with split-screen techniques that go further than merely connecting two geographically separate actions in a  single frame - his split-screens literally blur and blend into one image, making us question just where Chloé is really located in both space and time.

As we've come to expect from Ozon, his latest thriller is visually striking, and not since Mary Harron's American Psycho have sterile office environments looked so dazzling and thematically felicitous. Chloé takes a job in an art gallery, which allows Ozon free reign to fill his frame with works of art that externally hint at his protagonist's inner turmoil, a giant mess of roots hanging from the ceiling reflecting the throbbing nerves we glimpsed when his camera delved inside her body in the film's explicit opening. Chloé is frequently framed beside mirrors, a thematically on-the-nose if aesthetically arresting affectation.

L'AMANT DOUBLE

Veteran stars Jacqueline Bisset and Myriam Boyer threaten to steal the show in small roles - the latter playing a cat lover who keeps her previous pets' stuffed carcasses on display in a nod to Psycho - but this is very much a two-hander between Vacth and Renier. As with her breakout role in Ozon's Jeune & Jolie, Vacth is required to say and do little while conveying much through her physical stagnation, and she nails her character's emotionally drained state. Renier is convincing in dual roles, channelling the spirit of Klaus Kinski as Louis, draining the life and will from Chloé like Kinski's vampire sucking the blood from Isabelle Adjani in Herzog's Nosferatu, another cinematic double.

For all its intrigue and Gallic gloss, L'Amant Double hits a wall in its final act, Ozon wrapping up proceedings in a manner that most viewers will find insulting. The film ends in a fashion that made me wonder if my screener was missing 15 minutes of its running time, as though Ozon grew bored with his script and wanted to move on to next year's obligatory offering. The trite explanation that resolves the drama is somewhere between the simplification of Norman Bates' psychosis that closes Psycho and a lazy schoolboy's 'it was all a dream' ending for an essay he didn't want to write in the first place. Receiving a new film every year from a filmmaker as talented as Ozon may seem like a gift horse whose maw we shouldn't gaze into, but L'Amant Double is one project that could have benefitted from more time on the drawing board.

L'Amant Double is in UK/ROI cinemas June 1st.




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