If one were to think of the way, say, Family Guy would make a mocking parody of a French film, the end result of that thought experiment probably wouldn’t look too different from Francois Ozon’s Amant Double, adapted from the Joyce Carol Oates novel Lives of the Twins. Fronted by androgynous ingénue Chloe (Marine Vacth), this most stereotypically French of protagonists works at a modern art museum while engaging in explicit affairs with two identical twin psychotherapists, Paul and Louis (both Jeremie Renier). The only way it could feel more like a joke at its own expense would be if it were in black and white.
I really liked Ozon’s previous film, the less ‘adult’ than Amant Double but far more mature Frantz, but the relative chasteness of that effort has clearly left the director desperate to return to his audaciously sexual ways. The very first we see of Chloe is an invasive close-up of the inside of her vagina, a winkingly smutty image that gets the gasps and titters it seeks, but also alerts the audience to a shock factor that will be used in the stead of any real substance as the film goes forward. None of the lead three characters are who they initially seem, and as Chloe delves into the therapists’ pasts, ever more absurd secrets are revealed.
Audience interest is held by a series of arresting visuals, sharply lensed and jam-packed with mirrors to create surreal endless landscapes, and smart camera and editing tricks allow Ozon to unobtrusively warp space and time, a technique he uses to spice up both conversations and sex scenes. But, eventually, the nonsense of the characters and plotting becomes too much to bear, a fatal problem that no amount of full nude therapy scenes can overcome. Amant Double is laden with unnecessarily complex baggage, from pseudoscience about twins to hidden family secrets.
In the final third though, Ozon goes for broke, with completely bonkers set-pieces and dream sequences having plenty of power to genuinely thrill and frighten. They’re undeniably riveting in the moment, even if nothing stands up to any sort of thoughtful scrutiny in hindsight. For a while at least, then, it looks like Amant Double might redeem itself as a pulpy thriller, albeit one that makes little to no sense. And then the ending twist hits and the whole endeavour sinks like a stone. It’s maddeningly pointless, turning an already silly and slight film into an empty chore.
Rather flat, though not actually bad, performances fail to elevate any of the material, and you end up feeling a little sorry for Vacth, who has to undergo a series of naked humiliations on Chloe’s journey. Hitchcock-esque touches like the vertiginous climb to the therapy offices and a creepily aggressive older woman (Jacqueline Bisset) furious at Chloe for her promiscuity only encourage comparison to far superior films. Though Ozon might be able to match his inspirations visually, his twisty turny script leaves much to be desired.