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L’Amant Double: An Interview with director Francois Ozon
June 6, 2018
L’ Amant Double is absurd, brash, a highly sexual psychoanalytic extravaganza of a film. As if that was ever a thing and yet that is exactly what renowned French director Francois Ozon has unabashedly created. Chloe (Marine Vacth) a neurotic former model, now a gallery invigilator, has been pained throughout her life with unexplainable stomach pains, newly diagnosed as psychological. She starts to see a psychotherapist, the incredibly handsome and docile Paul (Jeremie Renier). Soon enough they develop an attraction for each other and subsequently end their sessions to become romantically involved. Into the relationship, Chloe discovers that her partne has a secret twin, or so she thinks, Louis (also played by Renier) who is the complete opposite of Paul and soon enough a series incongruous and unexpected events follow to reach an unlikely if truly captivating crescendo.The whole premise of L’Amant Double lies in the chaos and the deceptiveness of the mind, what is real or unreal.
We were given time to chat to Ozon last week and of course, once again we jumped at the chance. Ozon explains that the events unfolding is all in Chloe’s psyche,“That’s the game, the film is very playful with the audience. For me you, are in the subconscious of Chloe and all that of which she imagines; the twin thing is an unconscious, superconscious, projection of what she is thinking”. This outlandish explanation of a ‘vanishing twin’ seems to resolve some of the plot queries; Louis is not a real twin but actually Chloe’s own mental protectoral transference. But even then Ozon, casts doubt and abstractness; Paul may actually have a twin? Maybe? Still don’t know, as a lot is left unanswered even after the parasitic twin revealtion.
Perhaps this is where Ozon thrives, portraying the extremities, charged or aggressive outbursts, monumental personal moments of total unravelling reaching a culminating pivotal point, “those stories are what interest me. Its more interesting to film a sex scene, than two people sitting in a French café talking to each other. There is no challenge to filming such scenes. I need this kind of challenge to be excited enough to make a film, otherwise its boring for me. I need some experimentation, some danger.”
Looking at Ozon’s back catalogue the characters and situations are often, if not always, bizarre, whether it be comedy, drama or thrillers. A teenage girl who becomes an escort for no good reason in Jeune & Jolie, a grieving cross-dressing widowed husband in The New Girlfriend to a 16-year-old boy and his destructive relationship with the wife of his middle age teacher in In The House or a murder cover-up story in the exceptional Charlotte Rampling starring movie Swimming Pool.
There is an air of the early 90s noir thriller mixed in with flashy oppulent aesthetics of the 80s, bringing to mind Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct or more closely related to efforts such as Brian De Palma’s Body Double or David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers which specifically explore relationships of twins. However Ozon takes it further, pushes the boundaries whilst lightening things up in comparison. He introduced the ‘vanishing twin theory’, a take on a short story about twins by Joyce Carol Oates. “I wanted for a long time to write a film about twins. I have a fascination like many people about twins. So I discovered this book, The Lives of Twins. I enjoyed the story, I thought it was funny. It was the perfect material for a film. So, I made an adaptation”.
Ozon is fascinated by the ‘vanishing twin syndrome’; an unlikely yet a real naturally occurring phenomenon which he inserts at the end as an implausible solution to Chloe’s numerous conundrums.As he explains “actually I didn’t know it existed. I did some research and I discovered all about it. A friend of mine also told me about someone she knew that had one in her stomach. I was so surprised that nature can do something like that. That one twin, can eat or absorb another twin in its body. I mean you automatically think you have a cancer. Because it can be in the stomach or the head or your leg. It looks like a cyst. I met a doctor who had a patient who thought she had breast cancer and then after she did tests the doctor told her ‘I have good news, you don’t have cancer, but you actually have your sister in your breast. I am not sure what is more disturbing”.
As the pandemonium that descends upon Chloe, she is in a constant state flux, bemused and perplexed throughout, unable to comprehend whats happening to her. Vacth’s is undenaibly a beautiful woman but she morphs her looks to give Chloe a melancholic and distant feel, lacking in any warmth. In Jeune & Jolie, Vacth’s aloof, lolita-esque Isballe nonchalantly becomes a high-class call-girl not out necessity but of sheer interest in it. Francois explains of their acquaitance, “When I met Marine for Jeune & Jolie, she wasn’t sure she wanted to be an actress. She was a model. She was very mysterious but in an almost autistic kind of way. It was very difficult for her to speak out, to express herself and that was perfect for the character of Isabelle, as it fitted with the whole thing of a young girl getting into prostitution when there seems to be no reason for it. The film was more like an observational documentary about her. She didn’t have to compose, she just had to be like a blank page, which the audience had to project their own fantasies on her”.
In L’Amant Double, Vacth comes out of her introverted shell, revealing impressively refined acting skills. The aloofness of Isabelle is replaced by irritation and exasperation in Chloe, piqued by all her physical and mental ailments. “For Marine it was more exciting this time, a bigger challenge to create this character. Chloe has greater depth and is more complicated. I used melancholy with Jeune & Jolie. With this film there is more suffering. Isabelle in a way wasn’t there, she was somewhere else. With this film, Chloe is more present, more intentional as she makes her investigation into her suffering, her stomach pains. Her character is more neurotic and disturbed”. Vacth is commendable in the role and despite hers and Rennier perfume ad model handsomness (a look which permeates the whole film) their screen chemistry is exceedingly palatable.
In fact the sex scenes between the two, mostly with Rennier’s Louis, are terribly explicit, over-dramatic, violent, outrageous even. Louis strangely has a hidden bedroom in his practice, where he offers sex as a method of helping clients combat their psychoses. Louis is perpetually rough towards her and Chloe appears completely submissive to his reuests. Alarm bells ring with such imagery in the time of the #MeToo movement, but Ozon, is quick to point out “You know, fiction is fiction. I am not making anything political. I actually think as a director I am feminist in the way of showing a complex female character. I play with the idea of domination and submission in the film and the change of power. Like there are some moments where she is the dominant one, when she uses the strap-on to penetrate Paul.”
The scene with the strap-on is a real eye-opener, shockingly refreshing seeing Paul, the passive twin, dominated in such a sexual way and contradicts my initial judgement of Chloe’s submissiveness. It could be said Ozon covers all angles of the argument. “I think sex is personal and you can fantasize however you want. What you are seeing is Chloe’s sexual dreams and fantasies. You can have many fantasises of submission, but it doesn’t mean you have to be raped. The problem with the situation now is that people think that things are black and white, especially about sexuality, its more complex. Of course, there should be consent, but what you make in terms of sexuality should be free and that means it could be violent, if it’s your choice. Politics doesn’t have to come into intimacy; desires are personal and private.”
Finally I asked Ozon if he plans on going to Hollywood or making another film in English as a lot of his European counterparts have, “I’ve already made Swimming Pool and another one Angel which was a big flop, I think the English hated it… So maybe I will at some point, but my English is not good enough and making a film in other language which is not your mother tongue is a tricky thing. Actually, it was easier for example to make a film in German because maybe my German is better than my English… But honestly at the end of the day it’s about the story and what works best for the story and one day that might be in English”.
L’Amant Double is out now.
Words by Daniel Theophanous @danny_theo_