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‘L’amant Double’ Review: François Ozon’s Ludicrous Erotic Thriller Is the Kinkiest Movie At Cannes

A fitfully amusing erotic thriller in which nothing is what it seems, anything could happen, and everything is at least a little ridiculous.

Francois Ozon L'Amant Double

“L’Amant Double”

“What the hell am I looking at?” That’s the question most viewers will likely ask themselves during the opening moments of François Ozon’s (“Swimming Pool”) latest film. Following the opening credits sequence, in which a severe young woman’s face is revealed as her bangs are snipped away from over her face, Ozon cuts to an extreme close-up of something pink and fleshy and soft as gauze. Is it the soft tissue of a human brain? The camera begins to zoom out. The inside lining of an open mouth? The camera zooms out even further, until… the young woman’s clitoris comes into focus at the top of the frame, as do the gynecological devices that are prying her vagina open.

It’s a hilariously explicit way of starting a movie, even before Ozon punctuates the moment with a match-cut to the girl’s eyeball, cementing the relationship between her sex and her psychology.

Welcome to “L’amant Double” (“The Double Lover”), a fitfully amusing erotic thriller in which nothing is what it seems, anything could happen, and everything is at least a little ridiculous. Much sillier than anything Ozon has made before — it unfolds like an overcorrection to the prolific French filmmaker’s staid and serious “Frantz” — but still lubricated with his usual psychosexual Euro-sleaze, this kinky story of jealousy and obsession feels like it’s been genetically engineered from the D.N.A. of “Dead Ringers” and “Possession” with a little bit of Brian De Palma thrown in for good measure. Or maybe it’s just the horniest movie that Alfred Hitchcock never made? Or maybe there’s simply no precedent to a Cannes Competition film in which someone yells “Just get your fetus out of here before I kill you!”

Marine Vacth, who Ozon fans will recognize as the lithe protagonist of 2013’s “Young and Beautiful,” stars as Chloé, a sullen ex-model whose new pixie cut is the most obvious of the film’s innumerable nods to the ’90s. Sick of the stomach pains that have always plagued her and advised that they might be of mental origin (“the stomach is the second brain,” someone observes), Chloé makes an appointment with a hunky psychologist by the name of Dr. Paul Meyer (Dardenne brothers muse Jérémie Renier), whose Parisian office sits perched atop one of those spiral staircases that only exist in movies about beautiful people losing their minds.

Dr. Meyer is a quiet, gentle man who wears jumpers to work and spends more time staring at his patients than he does talking to them, but that’s just as well because Chloé doesn’t need much encouraging before she’s spilling her guts about her frigid nature, the emptiness she’s always felt inside, and how she loves to be looked at but hates to be touched (the film’s most classically shot sequences find her working as a museum security guard, sitting between the exhibits like another piece of art).

READ MORE: The 2017 IndieWire Cannes Bible: Every Review, Interview and News Item Posted During the Festival

Naturally, it isn’t long before these hermetically sealed sociopaths fuck, fall in love, and begin living together in a high-rise that might as well have been designed by David Cronenberg. All is well until Chloé spots her boyfriend’s doppelgänger kissing another woman on the street; after some light stalking, she learns that Paul has a secret twin brother named Louis (also Renier, and also a psychologist, albeit one with far more dangerous methods). Louis, who dresses like a GQ model and likes to probe his patients from the inside out, is most definitely the dominant twin. His entire life seems dedicated towards making a cuck out of his younger brother (to use the appropriate Trump-era parlance).

Lots of sex ensues — not all of it appears consensual. Some of it doesn’t even appear to be real, as some missionary business with Paul evolves into a mutually twinned foursome, both partners doubling as they orgasm like a zygote being split in the uterus.

L'amant Double

“L’amant Double”

The central mysteries of the movie are both dreadfully boring and obviously beside the point. Why is Paul lying about not having a brother? Does Louis actually even exist? What the shit happened to Chloé’s cat, Milo, who goes missing after the wacky old lady next door leaves her window open one night? Ozon clearly knows that these things don’t matter, though it often feels like they matter even less than he thinks. In fact, these open-ended plot points only exist to facilitate the film’s real questions, which include provocative doozies like “Is that enough lube for pegging?,” “Will this movie be dumb enough to end with a scene where Chloé has to shoot the evil, goateed twin?” and “Um, are you sure that’s enough lube for pegging?”

To be fair, there are a number of moments in which Ozon plumbs his premise for more than its ample sex appeal, and Vacth’s cagey lead performance endows them with a genuine human spark. Given that the film is very much trapped in her character’s head, Ozon is less concerned with the dynamic between twins than he is the notions of double lives, shadow desires, and the human lust to fill the negative space that’s carved out by our choices. “When I’m with him I want to be with you,” Chloé tells Louis, “and when I’m with you I want to be with him.” Ozon recognizes that reconciling those mirrored desires can be fun, and frightening, and even a little dangerous, and so he’s made a trashy, gorgeously styled movie that can be fun, and frightening, and even a little dangerous.

Still, as Louis observes towards the end of the film, “Love has never saved anyone,” and “L’amant Double” offers absolutely nothing with which to replace it.

Grade: C+

“L’amant Double” premiered in Competition at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

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