Film

Don't let the daftness of 'L’Amant Double' trouble you – just surrender

François Ozon’s latest movie sees an ex-model’s trip to a psychiatrist turn into a complex love triangle involving warring twin brothers

François Ozon’s last film was the World War One drama Frantz. It was a sombre, restrained work (shot in black and white, or shades of graveyard grey) that I admired a great deal. I like his new film L’Amant Double too, but whereas Frantz maintained a decorous poise, this latest is unruly and lurid, an exhilarating splurge of bad taste after a bout of scrupulously maintained good behaviour.

Returning to his roots in cut-glass camp and twisty psychodrama, Ozon begins with a moment of provocation: an anatomically explicit close-up (which, in a stunning transition, dissolves into a weeping eye). Both body parts belong to Chloé, a 25-year-old former model complaining to her doctor of chronic stomach pains. Having examined Chloé, her doctor declares her physically fit, and recommends a therapist to treat her ailment.

So, Chloé (Marine Vacth) meets Paul (Jérémie Renier), a young shrink with a serious-minded expression under neatly parted blond hair. Apropos of her tummy ache, he informs her that “the stomach is a second brain”, a pronouncement that has a certain folksy wisdom to it but did make me doubt his medical qualifications.

Nonetheless Chloé’s depressive state lifts, so Paul must be doing something right. Well, indeed: turns out the two have, over the course of a number of sessions, fallen for one another. Claiming to be cured, Chloé dispenses with Paul’s therapeutic services, and engages him as her lover, moving into his flat with her cat Milo. But Milo – in a performance of feline subtlety – remains unconvinced about Paul.

L’Amant Double is outwardly a model of arthouse refinement, but it lurches from one improbable set-up to another like a potboiler written to a midnight deadline

Perhaps Chloé does too, or at least her suspicions are triggered when she sees Paul with another woman on her way to work. Paul denies it, and after some rudimentary detective work, Chloé realises she has mistaken Paul’s identical twin brother Louis (also played by Renier) for her doting and uxorious boyfriend.

If you find such a plot development unlikely, then the unravelling shenanigans are not for you: filmed with silky elegance L’Amant Double is outwardly a model of arthouse refinement, but it lurches from one improbable set-up to another like a potboiler written to a midnight deadline. Chloé signs up as a client with Louis without telling Paul. She claims to be doing so in order to find out more about her lover, but there are other reasons too.

Louis is unprincipled, brutish, self-absorbed (attributes signalled by the bad-boy quiff that Renier sports in this dual role): he’s the double of the title, but he’s also Paul’s opposite, and when his sessions with Chloé move into his bedroom the young woman is caught between competing feelings for the two men.

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It’s a whole casebook of erotic desire and emotional attachment. Ozon doesn’t so much attempt to disentangle the mess as enter into the chaos. Chloé tries to discover the cause of these twins’ fall out, but the closer she gets to some kind of truth the more slippery and delirious the film becomes.

At the start of the film Chloé pokes her fingers in a potted plant while she is waiting for her first appointment with Paul – and produces a small clump of earth. I suspect she wanted to know if the plant was real or not. One might wonder the same thing about the events in L’Amant Double, a film that under analysis looks pretty daft and empty. But by its final stages – a feverish onslaught of visceral horror, confusing gunfire, bad techno and a dollop of lube – I was past asking questions and had long surrendered to its sheer exuberance.

L’Amant Double is in cinemas from June 1

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