The French director François Ozon is no beginner when it comes to tackling eroticism on film. His output during the 2010s has included two explorations of female sexuality – 2013’s Young and Beautiful and 2014’s The New Girlfriend. Now he returns with a third, the erotic thriller L’Amant Double. We caught up with Francois ahead of the film’s release to talk about sex, psychoanalysis and how he likes to work.
Tom Duggins: My first question concerns one of the earliest shots in the film, where Chloe is at the gynaecologist and a shot of her vagina fades into a shot of her eye. Could you tell us about the intention of that shot?
Francois Ozon: It was a way for me to start the film with two frames which show the direction of the story. It’s a film about the interiority of a woman, and at the same time it’s an investigation of this woman. So there is the symbol of her vagina and the symbol of her eye for the investigation.
TD: There’s a scene later on in the film where the same thing happens, roughly, only the camera seems to travel down her mouth and into her oesophagus?
FO: The second time it’s her throat. I saw the inside of her mouth and I realised that the larynx looked like a clitoris. It was a big surprise for me that the vocal cords look like a vagina. So it was visually interesting to show that. It’s very clinical, but it was in the spirit of the film.
TD: So you’d say the spirit of the film is a woman’s interiority and her psyche?
FO: Yes it’s a film about the subconscious of a woman who is suffering from stomach pains. She feels she has something inside which doesn’t work. This is what the film is about. At the end she discovers what it is, but at the beginning of the film it causes her a lot of pain. She has to research herself and that’s why she goes to see a shrink.
TD: Speaking of that, I feel like the psychiatrist’s union might not be too happy at the way their profession is represented in this film. Would you agree?
FO: No, I spoke to many psychoanalysts in France – perhaps the English are different – but it can happen that you have a crush on one of your patients. You are a human being and sometimes you fall in love. I speak of the character of Paul, not Louis. Louis is not a good psychoanalyst, but it’s shown clearly in the film. He’s a pervert and he’s playing with his power. But Paul is quite honest. When he discovers that he has feelings for this girl he says – we have to stop these sessions. But it can happen in any job where you fall in love with your partner.
TD: On the topic of Paul, I wondered if – with his glasses and his beard – was he meant to look like Sigmund Freud?
FO: No, I did not have Sigmund Freud as a model because I don’t think he was very sexy! I wanted Jérémie to be sexy in the film. It was more a way of giving Paul and Louis different looks in the film. Differences between the two twins.
TD: It reminded me a little bit of Dead Ringers by David Cronenberg. Not just because it features twins, but also the body horror element of it. I wondered if that was an influence?
FO: Actually, I hadn’t seen Dead Ringers before making this film. When I decided to make a film adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates, some friends told me I had to see it. When I saw it, I realised there are some connections between the book and Cronenberg’s film. I suppose maybe Joyce Carol Oates wrote her book after watching Cronenberg. But Cronenberg’s film is in the point of view of a man. This film is from the point of view of a woman, one who is being manipulated.
TD: You talk about this film being from the point of view of a woman. As a director, how did you feel you gave that sense of her perspective?
FO: I don’t make any difference between a man and a woman. I find it easier to make a portrait of a woman. I am more lucid and have more distance. When I make a film about men I have the feeling that there’s a mirror in front of me and I find it more disturbing. Maybe it’s easier for me to hide behind a female character.
TD: Chloe herself is treated quite badly in the film. Is misogyny part of what the film is exploring?
FO: The film is about the subconscious of this woman who is searching and trying to investigate herself. She has a tendency to project her pain on others. The twins are a projection of what she has inside. Because it deals with sexuality, her exploration of sexuality. That’s what she says to Louis, she says – ‘I want to try to fuck you’ – to explore something new. Because she doesn’t know what she likes. Where her desire is. She doesn’t look to be badly treated, she just wants to discover something about herself. Exploring her sexuality – domination and submission.
TD: I suppose part of the reason I ask is that some people think psychoanalysis has a history of treating women in a slightly patronising way. Was that on your radar at all?
FO: I think it depends on the psychoanalyst you’re with. It’s difficult to make generalities about that, there are some good, some bad.
TD: Playing twins can be a tricky thing for an actor. How did you think Jérémie Renier handled it?
FO: I think it’s always a great pleasure for an actor to play twins. It’s a big composition, it’s very exciting. Of course, he was afraid. He didn’t know if he would be able, but he was so excited and it was so much fun to play these two parts. We spent one month shooting all of Paul’s scenes and one month shooting all of Louis’s. On no single day did he have to play the two characters, so it was easy for him to compose two different characters. I think it’s the dream of many actors to play twins.
TD: Although, I suppose there’s a tendency sometimes for actors to slightly overdo it a little bit.
FO: Jérémie is a very sensitive actor and very honest. He’s someone who is better and better like an old wine.
TD: Speaking of things getting better as they progress, this is the second time you’ve worked with Marine Vacth. Did you have her in mind to play Chloe early on?
FO: No. At first I wondered if she would be too young for the part. Actually, I discovered that she became a mother after making my film. She’s a real woman. I was a little bit nervous to show her the script, because again it’s a film with nudity and sex scenes. I thought – ‘My God, each time I give her a script it’s too sexual’ – she’ll be upset with me. But actually she enjoyed the script. She was very touched by Chloe. And she realised that this film could be a good opportunity for her to compose a character far away from what she is in life.
TD: Do you find that sexuality as a topic requires a slightly different approach because it’s so intimate and personal?
FO: Very often, the actors are very nervous. I’m very honest with them. I tell them immediately from the script, when we do a reading, I tell them what I will show, what I won’t show and what I want. I don’t think you have to lie to actors. First, you have to know what you want to show in the film. Some directors say – ‘It’s a sex scene, do what you want’. I don’t do that. I know exactly what I want because I think sexuality shows something of the character. It has to be very precise, so I tell them exactly what I want. Because of their nerves about playing the scene, they tend to be very good straight from the first take and it’s very fast. It’s almost like doing a stunt.
TD: The preparation makes it much easier?
FO: Yes. As a director you have to be honest. Just because the film is perverse, that doesn’t mean the way of shooting it has to be perverse.
TD: You tend to work with the same people frequently. Does that happen quite naturally, where you build up those working relationships?
FO: It depends. When I have a good relationship with an actor, very often I feel I have to explore a new facet of their skill. For example, when I worked with Charlotte Rampling in ‘After The Sun’, afterwards, I proposed ‘Swimming Pool’ to her. The two parts are very different The actors are very rich in personality, and when you become friends you want to work together again. It’s always a pleasure, but there are some actors I don’t want to work with again.
TD: Why is that?
FO: It depends. Sometimes it’s the chemistry. Sometimes there are very good actors but in terms of their behaviour, they are not good people. So, do you say – he’s a great actor or she’s a great actress – I don’t like them but they’re good for the film. Or do you decide to work with people you really like? For me, after many films, I prefer the latter. But you never know what will happen. Perhaps someday I will work with an American Hollywood star and I will have to support his behaviour and it will be good for the film.
François Ozon’s L’Amant Double is out now in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema.