Tag Archives: François Ozon

CAPSULE: DOUBLE LOVER (2017)

L’amant double 

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Marine Vacth, Jérémie Renier, Jacqueline Bisset, Myriam Boyer

PLOT: A young woman suffering from phantom pains in her stomach seeks the help of a psychiatrist, falls in love with him, and then comes to suspect he is harboring a secret about his past.

Still from Double Lover (L'amant double)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Ozon’s latest is a sexual psychothriller that falls into the category of “might have been shortlisted in the earlier days of this project, but with only forty slots remaining…” If you like movies that are mysterious and spice their eroticism with a sense of dangerous perversity, this is one to check out, Litsable or not. My theatrical viewing did include one walkout—usually a promising sign—but I do have to qualify it by saying that it was a little old lady who probably thought she was walking into a screening of the latest Fifty Shades of Grey.

COMMENTS: We have to be coy describing Double Lover so as not to reveal too much of the plot. Fortunately, the movie features an unreliable narrator, thereby lending itself to an unreliable review that may mislead. For example, it’s safe to say (and perhaps even implied in the title) that Double Lover revolves around a love triangle. Or does it?

You see, Chloe, the protagonist, hallucinates freely. She first seeks psychiatric help for phantom pains in her belly that have no gynecological cause. (The film is sexually explicit, if not quite porno, but even more so it’s gynecologically explicit—the very first shot is a speculum’s-eye view of Chloe in stirrups receiving a very thorough internal exam). With nothing physically wrong with her, she’s sent to Paul, a therapist who soon falls for her and ethically ends their professional relationship, moving his former patient into his apartment instead. Although Chloe seems cured, she still had lingering pains and mommy issues, and therefore seeks out another psychiatrist to plumb the depths of her soul. In this one, she thinks she’s found the perfect counterbalance to sweet-natured Paul…

With its theme of improbable doubles, the scenario is slightly ian, though more explicitly hallucinatory. Other themes recall Dead Ringers, and a shocking dream sequence unabashedly references a similar sex dream found in Cronenberg‘s movie.  The atmosphere is ian, especially in the oft-oppressive sound design. The hallucinations are usually of the sort where someone shows up in a place where they could not possibly be, although there is a lovely moment when the abstract art at the museum Chloe works in as a guard bleeds into her oncoming dream. The tone is tense throughout, and the sex scenes can sometimes be difficult to watch as they get kinkier and play teasingly with questions of consent. If I had one reservation to the whole thing, it would be that the ending is too pat—although there’s also the mandatory coda implying Chloe’s turbulent psyche is not yet wholly calmed.

The acting is a high point. Marine Vacth, who might be ‘s long lost twin, conveys fragility, but with a tough survivor’s core. Jérémie Renier shows range, from the nurturing psychotherapist to a rampaging sexual predator. Jacqueline Bisset is a welcome sight, and neighbor Myriam Boyer, who keeps her beloved pet cat stuffed on the mantle in her long-departed and since untouched daughter’s room, adds both light comic relief and an additional air of mystery.

is a prolific, chameleonic filmmaker who alternates between slim, popular comedies like Potiche and more provocative, sexually charged thrillers like this (with the occasional magical realist fantasy thrown into the mix). Double Lover was adapted (loosely) from the Joyce Carol Oates novel “Lives of the Twins.” Joyce liked it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Double Lover may not represent Ozon in peak form but it’s too weirdly entertaining to dismiss out-of-hand.”–James Berardinelli, Reel Views (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: RICKY (2009)

DIRECTED BY: François Ozon

FEATURING: Alexandra Lamy, Mélusine Mayance, Sergi López

PLOT:  A single mom factory worker gives birth to a very special baby; of course, every mother thinks her baby is miraculous, but in this case the press thinks so, too.

Still from Ricky (2009)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  A minor but sometimes effective meditation on motherhood, Ricky might not be good enough to make this exclusive list even if it were extremely bizarre. Its “what if” premise and strange, vacillating tone is just off-normal enough to place the movie within the weird genre, but it in no way pushes the boundaries of the bizarre.

COMMENTS:  If you’ve read other reviews of Ricky, you might have already discovered what it is that makes this baby special; only a few critics have managed to keep the film’s turning point a secret. I don’t think it’s necessary to give away the surprise to discuss the film, but you might be able to figure it out anyway from context. It’s less important precisely what it is that makes Ricky a special baby, which is mainly a matter of concern for the special effects crew, then it is to consider the role Ricky’s “specialness” plays in the story: a metaphor for the wonder with which a mother views her own offspring. The wizardry that brings the baby to life is inconsistent—the analog elements are neat looking, if unconvincing, while the digital realizations are just unconvincing—but that’s not what most people will find unsatisfactory about the film. Ricky begins life as a dreary domestic drama, then shifts gears about halfway through and tries to be a whimsical semi-comedy before gliding into a mystical, suspiciously happy ending. As the movie gets weirder the tone gets lighter, but the hard realities of the earlier drama still weigh it down. The two hemispheres of the movie work against each other; the part of the movie that’s well done is kind of boring, while the more intriguing portion often seems thrown together on the fly.

As stressed lower-middle class parents Katie and Paco, Alexandra Lamy and Sergi López are believably flawed: they bicker and accuse each other, they sometimes neglect Katie’s older child Lisa, and they can be irresponsible parents (no pediatrician for Ricky?), but in the end they fight through their own limitations to do the right thing for their offspring. Lamy sells the film’s potentially ridiculous emotional climax and makes it affecting; a poor performance would have turned it into pure camp. It’s a serious and thoughtful movie with points to praise (particularly Lamy’s performance); but, even as an experiment in deliberately inconsistent tone, it’s hard to say the film works on the whole. In the end, Ricky never really gets off the ground.

The movie begins with an out-of-sequence prologue that’s incompatible with the rest of the story. Although the scene frustrates and confuses some viewers, it’s a great tear-jerking moment for Lamy; and, more importantly, by it contrasting the grim reality of single parenthood with the fantasy that follows, it’s the key to the film’s psychology.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The film is bewildering. I don’t know what its terms are, and it doesn’t match any of mine. I found myself regarding it more and more as an inexplicable curiosity.”–Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun Times (contemporaneous)