I hate reading reviews of films before I see them because I like to be surprised and want to avoid being influenced by someone else’s opinion. I do, however, try to get a sense of whether a film is a real dog or has potential by looking at star ratings and talking to friends.
Lately, I have been starting to think that François Ozon was developing into an interesting director. I enjoyed his last film, Frantz, which, while far from perfect, had much to recommend it, and after seeing the trailer for his new film, L’Amant Double, I was under the impression that it was going to be about the phenomenon of mythomania, or pathological lying, a subject that interests me. Wrong!
I really should have done my homework this time. First of all, the film starts with the camera peering up into a woman’s vagina at her cervix while she’s on the gynecologist’s table. This is just the first of a number of shots traveling up into human orifices.
Then the story is set up as a sort of psychological thriller. Chloé (Marine Vacth), a beautiful young former fashion model, goes to a shrink, Paul (Jérémie Renier) about her psychosomatic stomach pains and before long is living with him. Not much later, she discovers that he has a double, also a psychiatrist. Since he will not explain how this could be possible and why he has changed his family name, she begins to investigate.
I soon realized with a sinking feeling that the film was turning into a gothic horror story. I should have known when I saw in the opening titles that it was “loosely based” on the novel Lives of the Twins by Rosamond Smith (a pseudonym for Joyce Carol Oates).
Chloé is by now having sex with both of the two identical men. Things get hotter and hotter and the sex gets kinkier and kinkier as references to cats begin to multiply.
The sinking feeling in my stomach (totally relevant to the content of the film) became a veritable pain as I made another realization. As in so many French films I have seen, beginning with Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Betty Blue, the fault lies not with the evil male twins (any soap operas come to mind here?), as we have been led to believe, but the woman herself. She’s crazy. All the strange (and gross) things we have seen were untrue, a product of her deranged imagination. What a copout! The root of her problem is explained as “vanishing twin syndrome,” a real phenomenon in which a twin fetus absorbs the tissue of its dead sibling in the womb.
As in the film I reviewed last week, Arnaud Desplechin’s Ismael’s Ghosts, Ozon throws in lots of savvy references to great films of the past (e.g., the funhouse mirrors scene in The Lady from Shanghai). It takes a lot of nerve for Desplechin and Ozon to flatter themselves that their work is up to the standards of Orson Welles or Alfred Hitchcock.
Also as with Ismael’s Ghosts, the French press raved about L’Amant Double, with only one or two exceptions. Either the French have extremely different taste in movies or there is a touch of protectionism here.
This line from the review of the novel in Kirkus Review applies perfectly to the movie as well: “Joyce Carol Oates… is in a playful, slightly nasty mood here – taking a glossy, shallow heroine (intentionally unsympathetic) through some creepy, modern psychosexual variations on a familiar gothic, romance scenario.”
Why, oh why, didn’t I read that before going to see this film?