Cannes 2017 review: L’amant double (François Ozon)

A certain corner of film criticism cries out when they perceive a film to have more style than it has substance. But when a film appears to have both, and truly has neither, it ends up something like François Ozon’s L’amant double.

Chloé (Marine Vacth), an unemployed former model in her mid-twenties, has had stomach pains all her life. With no apparent physiological reasons behind this, it is assumed that her condition is psychosomatic, and she participates in therapy sessions. Chloé feels “empty” and “incapable of living,” she falls in love with Paul (Jérémie Renier) over the course of their sessions, finds employment working in a museum, and her stomach problems stop bothering her: Chloé’s life appears to be getting on track.

Shortly after they settle into a new apartment together, Chloé begins to discover Paul’s secrets. While unpacking their things, Chloé finds one of Paul’s expired passports, which reads “Paul Delord.” When questioned, Paul becomes defensive and evasive, dismissing it as inconsequential, and answers with a vague, unconvincing explanation that he does not want to be associated with his father’s name, and that it was better for his career to use his mother’s. Chloé is not fully satisfied with this alibi, but chooses not to press any further, until she believes she spots him away from his workplace. He also denies that this happened, and jokes that he has a double.

Returning to the building where she saw this double, Chloé finds that it houses another psychiatrist’s practice. Going up to meet him, Chloé is stunned to find that Louis Delord is indeed an exact double for Paul. She points out their resemblance, and Louis confirms that it is because they are twin brothers. Chloé does not like Louis, who is bold, brash, and probably should be the one sitting on the shrink’s couch, but she continues to see him and their sessions become physically violent explorations of her repressed sexual fantasies.

L’amant double begins with a conventional approach to unpacking Chloé, Paul, and Louis’s psychology, whose sharpest epiphanies exclaim that couples keep secrets from each other, and just because twins look alike doesn’t mean that you can know both by knowing one. While none of these are earth-shattering discoveries, at least they are something to consider, but Ozon quickly becomes bored with this approach, and eventually rejects any semblance of trying to reveal their states of mind. It is transparently shallow: psychoanalysis is too brittle and stiff for what this wants to be, but with the absence of any ideas to hold it together, the film flails and fails, though Ozon scarcely seems to care. It becomes a routeless journey that culminates in empty provocations, and ones that miss opportunities to push the envelope even further: an already infamous match shot of a vagina that fades into a tear running from Chloé’s eye is not sustained long enough for the audience to even process the image, and the use of hetero anal sex to symbolize traditional gender role and power reversal is tired.

L’amant double was an opportunity to either intellectually stimulate or titillate its audience with campy debauchery, but in trying to do both, it achieves neither. Vacth and Renier both already have inherent sex appeal: both are eagerly committed to whatever Ozon envisions, but their commitment is wasted in a bland romp that only attempts to duplicate the cheap thrills of the most unimaginative porn. Having very little to say about the dynamics of sexual guessing games, L’amant double descends into an onslaught of plot twists and ludicrous metaphors to distract and engage its audience, and while they are not exactly predictable, it is only because of how puerile and convoluted they are. Masquerading as the lover you’ve been waiting for to incarnate your most exciting fantasies, L’amant double more accurately embodies the fervour of a sexy one-night stand with all the desire to please, but is ultimately unable to achieve the requisite tumescence to climax.