Prolific French director François Ozon returns to UK screens with his slightly camp psychological thriller L’Amant Double (The Double Lover), a kind of Fifty Shades of Dead Ringers. But will it be pegged back by its now notorious sex scenes?
Marine Vacth (who starred in Ozon’s Jeune et Jolie) plays Chloe, a 25 year-old former model who suffers from inexplicable stomach cramps. Following a vaginal probe – a literal eye-opener at the top of the film – Chloe is referred to gentle and psychiatrist Paul (Jérémie Renier). He has a pair of glasses, but it’s unclear if they have prescription lenses. Chloe’s sessions conveniently give us some back story while a frisson develops and before you can say ‘malpractice lawsuit’, the two are shacking up – along with Chloe’s cat Milo – in a luxury apartment on the thirteenth floor.
Chloe gets a job in a modern art museum but something is still off and she feels that her lover is hiding things from her. Sure enough, when she spies him in another part of the city when he was supposed to be at the hospital. It is then that it is revealed that Paul has an identical twin brother Louis, also a psychiatrist. Using an assumed name – doubling herself you see? – Chloe begins sessions with Louis secretly. Far from the soothing talking cure, Louis is an advocate of the treat-em-mean-keep-em keen form of therapy. In a nice touch of 1960s sexism, Chloe is to be cured of ‘frigidity’ – is that still a word we use? – involving a lot of domination.
In the meantime, secrets and mystery piles up as Chloe continues to investigate the brothers’ past and why specifically Paul has completely cut off his twin and even denies his existence. Nothing here is supposed to be taken all that seriously and Ozon cheerfully piles on the weird: a quirky neighbour (Myriam Boyer) with a stuffed cat lurks next door and Jacqueline Bisset shows up though who she is will remain unclear until the end. Brian De Palma is an obvious influence and through him Alfred Hitchcock, though Ozon has credited a Joyce Carol Oates short story as his direct inspiration for L’Amant Double’s story.
But for all the prism like complexity, twist and turns, the nudity and kinky sex – a strap-on features prominently – there’s some essential element missing. This is like watching a good boy play bad. The camp is too slickly knowing; the twists don’t surprise; the provocations are a little passé and the sex is too, well, frigid. Some pleasure can be gained by not taking it too seriously, but this makes for an empty and rather pointless exercise.
John Bleasdale | @drjonty