Prove your humanity: 4   +   7   =  

Genre: Drama, Romance, Thriller

Directed by: François Ozon

Starring: Marine Vacth, Jérémie Renier, Jacqueline Bisset

My favourite film of last year, by quite some margin, was Frantz. The story of a young woman falling in love again after being widowed in World War One, it’s an exquisite work; elegant, sensitive, profound. If you haven’t seen it yet, I can’t recommend it enough.

Frantz and L’Amant Double share a director in François Ozon. And that’s about all they share…

L’Amant Double is the story of troubled Chloé (Marine Vacth), who falls in love and then moves in with her handsome therapist, Paul (Jérémie Renier). All is well, until one day Chloé sees a man on the street who seems like the doppelganger of her boyfriend. Secrets and lies abound, as our heroine tries to uncover the mystery of her lover, and his double.

From the opening scene, which positions us quite literally inside our protagonist’s vagina, L’Amant Double is proudly, vividly, unabashedly, sexual. It’s difficult to think of a film in recent years that has so deservedly earned its eighteen rating.

Ozon shoots this risqué material with a palpable thrill; he wants to provoke, and if anyone of a delicate disposition has the misfortune to find themselves in a screening, he will succeed. For everyone else though, the preponderance of the sex scenes has a numbing effect. They are lurid and entertaining at first, but as the film progresses, they lose their impact. Ozon’s influences, De Palma, Verhoeven etc, have all done this better. The longer L’Amant Double continues, the more time you have to contemplate that.Adding to this sense of derivativeness is a laughable overuse of symbolism. Aside from the spiral staircases and black cats, there are too many mirrors to count. Ozon likes his compositions symmetrical, so you could slide one of those many mirrors down the centre of the frame and see the same thing reflected on both sides. Visually, it gives L’Amant Double a nice, glossy sheen. Overall though, it makes the endeavour seem even emptier; Ozon is so concerned with adding as many reflective surfaces as humanly possible, he forgets the basic things, like character and plot. You’d need a lot more mirrors to distract from the lack at the middle of this movie.

Marine Vacth, who played a similar role in Ozon’s Jeune et Jolie, is fine, if a little vacant as Chloé. The standout here is Jérémie Renier. He has the unenviable task of playing underwritten, polar opposite characters seriously, whilst embracing the essential silliness of the film. And he succeeds. He’s a pro, and it’s thanks to him that L’Amant Double remains watchable, even in its most frustrating moments.

L’Amant Double is Ozon having fun. Outrageous and often downright unhinged, you can almost hear him behind the camera, giggling like a schoolboy.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate through to the viewer. Though it is well produced and well acted, there’s a gaping hole where its heart should be. There’s no amount of stylistic tricks or visual homages large enough to fill that void. Coming straight after the delicate beauty of FrantzL’Amant Double is a major disappointment.

★★

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