There was a time when director Francois Ozon was considered the pre-eminent enfant terrible of French cinema, especially during the period in which he was making films with as much wild abandon as he did in 1998 with Sitcom. Those days seemed to be somewhat behind him, as he settled into what many considered to be a slightly more mature period, with films that still had remnants of that playfulness or loose attitude to sex on screen, but were more restrained, more… tasteful. And with last year’s Frantz it seemed like Ozon was even becoming a little austere in his filmmaking choices.
Well, L’Amant Double is here to blow all that out of the water. Ozon is back to his old tricks and makes that clear within seconds of the film starting. Following a title sequence which displays the opening credits over a locked off shot of Chloe (Marine Vacth) having her long hair cut into a short pixie cut, Ozon cuts to something. What it is isn’t immediately obvious, it’s pink and fleshy for sure, but it’s so close up that it’s hard to make out. The camera pulls back slowly and then you see the first signs of a clitoral hood peeking out of the top of the frame. Ozon is pulling the camera out of Chloe’s vagina. As her private parts then entirely and more clearly fill the entire cinema screen he then fades into another image, Chloe’s eye on the side. A single tear escapes from her eye.
It’s an audacious match cut, but one that really sets the tone and reveals that Ozon’s tongue is firmly in his cheek. L’Amant Double may be a film that puts one in mind of nineties erotic thrillers at times but there’s also a lot of Hitchcock/De Palma there too, and as this opening – ahem – attests to, Ozon is also interested in taking these influences and making them his own in many lurid and graphic ways.
Ozon also directs L’Amant Double with an approach that resembles someone throwing the kitchen sink at the screen and then the cutlery draw shortly after.
The story is deliciously fun, with Chloe embarking on a relationship with her therapist, Paul (Jeremie Renier), only to then discover that he has a secret twin, Louis (Jeremie Renier), who she then falls for too. Paul wears big jumpers and glasses and listens to her problems, whilst Louis wears sharp suits and a wicked grin and charges her 150 Euro to treat her using “applied techniques”. By applied techniques he mostly means having sex with her in an increasingly rough manner.
Chloe is torn between the twins – at one point Ozon makes great use of visual effects to show her dreaming of literally stretching into two people to sleep with both of them at once – and as she uncovers more and more about them and herself, she becomes increasingly scared and excited about her relationships with them.
To say things escalate would be an understatement, but thanks in part to Ozon giving the audience fair warning of the kind of film they are watching and by things ramping up at a brisk pace it’s very easy to get swirled up and then spat out at the end. Along the way Ozon crams the film with so much kinky action and crazy twists that it would be a particularly stern-faced puritan who didn’t at least have a bit of fun along the way.
Ozon also directs L’Amant Double with an approach that resembles someone throwing the kitchen sink at the screen and then the cutlery draw shortly after. It’s something that shouldn’t perhaps work, but this is a film that is all about excess. Almost every scene appears to have reflective surfaces in – for instance, there’s an incredibly cliched spiral staircase and a sequence in which Chloe sees multiple cats looking back at her has to be seen to be believed. If that all sounds rather silly, it is. But Ozon knows what film he’s making, a devilishly erotic thriller that will entertain the hell out of you for 100 minutes. And boy did he succeed.