Sunday, 3 June 2018

L'Amant Double (Double Lover)

Womb With A View

L'Amant Double (Double Lover)
2017 France/Belgium Directed by François Ozon
UK cinema release print.

I’m glad that  François Ozon’s latest movie, L’Amant Double has finally got a release in the UK. I sadly missed this at last year’s London Film Festival because... well I can only fit in so many films and it was probably either clashing with something else I saw or just on at a ridiculous time. I’m really glad I’ve finally got to see this, though, because it’s a bit of a corker.

I tend to find Ozon a little hit and miss but I did like his version of 8 Women and I absolutely adored his movie Swimming Pool. In fact, the latter film has a special place in my heart because it marks Ozon out as one of the very few directors who has made a film with such a brilliant twist ending that it completely took me by surprise. If you’ve not seen Swimming Pool then I’d recommend it because the very last shot of the movie completely upends everything you thought you knew about the story and... well... it’s just brilliant.

L’Amant Double is his new psychological thriller which is (quite loosely, I suspect) based on Joyce Carol Oates novel Lives Of The Twins. It stars Marine Vacth as Chloé, a ex model who when she goes to get her persistent stomach pains checked out, is recommended to psychiatrist Paul, played by Jérémie Renier, on the off chance it might be a psychosomatic condition. Of course, being as this is movieland, it’s not long before Paul has ‘cured’ Chloé and the two are madly in love with each other. Problems start to happen soon after they move in together, though, as Chloé discovers... and starts to have a torrid affair with... Paul’s twin brother, who Paul doesn’t even acknowledge. And from there on, things start to get stranger as Chloé is pulled into the twisted world of Paul’s manipulative brother, which gets even darker once Chloé discovers she is pregnant by one of them.

Okay, don’t want to say too much more here in terms of plot because, although the director didn’t quit take me by surprise with the ending on this one, it doesn’t quite go to where you might at first think things are going to lead and I don’t want to give away any spoilers. The different possible scenarios suggested by the set up are piled on in much the same way as an adept giallo writer might give way too many potential solutions to the mystery at the heart of a movie. What I will say, though, is that I suspect a lot of reviewers are going to be comparing this one to a kind of cross pollination of David Cronenberg’s excellent movie Dead Ringers and my personal favourite of Brian De Palma’s early films, Sisters.

The film opens strongly with a boldly masked shot within a circular shape as we see the lead actress looking into camera, framed in the circle, as she is getting her long, flowing hair cut short. After these opening credits, we switch to a shot of the inside of her vagina through the end of a speculum as she is at the gynecologist’s office. As the speculum is removed we see the elongated ‘iris’ of her vulva in close up before we cut to a shot of an eye which reflects the circular motif and, indeed, the idea of circles, eyes and eyeballs are a recurring motif throughout the film. It’s all alluded to very strongly as the next scene features her going up an elaborate spiral staircase punctuated by shots looking both down and up the middle of it which, again, pushes this particular, ‘watching’ visual element. It’s almost like the womb is observing from the mise en scène and I think that’s exactly the metaphor the director is trying to make here.

The beauty of the shot set ups, which utilise both superimposed images of the actors plus reflections in mirrors, takes on an almost hallucinatory feeling in the first ten minutes or so and, again, having seen the conclusion of this film, I can see why the director does this and I can also see why the style settles down after a while and the shots become more conventional at certain points. There’s some great stuff used in here though, including a spectacular, enhanced frame where Chloé and Paul are sitting on opposite sides of the room facing each other and then, when the shot switches to a more close up shot  of their profiles, one is superimposed on the opposite side of the screen directly next to the other seamlessly, as the director uses this technique to bridge the physical space between the characters by just moving them closer artificially. Brilliant stuff.

I say the style settles down but, you do still get lots of flashes of visual genius at various points and, after a while, you may start noticing the eye/circle motif in various places you wouldn’t expect to see it... such as carved into the door of a house that Chloé visits towards the end of the movie or as a feature of a headboard on a neighbour's bed that Chloé sleeps in.

There will come a point when you will realise that, almost as a necessity, the audience’s perception of what is actually going on is going to be thrown into doubt and uncertainty. I alluded earlier that the film could be seen as something of, possibly, an homage to the cinema of Cronenberg and De Palma but let’s not forget one of De Palma’s chief influences too... Hitchcock. You will see a scene in this film somewhere that serves exactly the same purpose as the scene in Psycho where actor Simon Oakland describes what was really going on in the mind of Norman Bates (as played by Anthony Perkins). Which is nice because Philippe Rombi’s score for the movie is also pretty great and, in some ways, slightly reminiscent of what composers like Bernard Hermman and Pino Donnagio were doing in some of the thrillers they scored (and thankfully, there’s a CD of this one available). I’m not, however, about to tell you just which of the characters in this movie needs a little more audience explanation than the others though... you can work it out/discover it for yourself as you watch it.

Now, like I said, I wasn’t completely surprised by the ending of this movie and, quite often, that’s a real turn off. However, like Swimming Pool, the very last shot of this film is a really great moment... although for different reasons. And, even though you know where that last shot is going, the sound design on this moment makes you really sit up and take notice (so see it in a decent cinema if possible).

L’Amant Double is a pretty great movie and definitely one I’d recommend. The cinematography is ostentatious, the performances by the actors are brilliant and fairly brave (there’s a fair amount of nudity in this one and it also includes a pegging scene, where Chloé makes love to Paul with a strap-on) and, even if the ending doesn’t quite take you by surprise, it will certainly keep you guessing until very late in the running time as to just what the heck is going on. A strong recommendation from me. Go see it while it’s still in cinemas.

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