Brian De Palma has been rather quiet of late, but he's still a hot ticket in France. 'Twas ever thus. The lowliest entries in the De Palma cannon – Snake Eyes, Mission to Mars, Redacted – have all graced the Cahiers du Cinéma's annual Top 10 Lists. More recent French titles, notably Yann Gonzalez's Knife + Heart and François Ozon's L'Amant Double could easily be called I Heart Dressed to Kill.
The prolific Ozon opens this overheated psychosexual thriller with a speculum-view of a vaginal examination, an image which is referenced again and again in a film that pointedly trades on doubles and duplicates. There’s even a mini-lecture on an XXY cat.
Classic Parisian gamine Chloe (Vacth) is suffering from stomach cramps that are believed to be psychosomatic in nature. She starts to see Paul (Renier), a psychoanalyst. Before you can say “code of ethics”, they’ve moved in together. And that’s when Chloe discovers that Paul has a secret identical twin: a meaner psychoanalyst for whom “no” means “Yes!”
Dodgy erotic encounters and sheet-clutching ensue. The bad seed twin becomes increasingly violent, even smashing a pregnant Chloe through shower glass. There are delirious Freudian fantasies, including a triple-breasted distorted Chloe having sex with both siblings and Renier passionately kissing himself. There is vomiting to the strains of Elvis's As Long As I Have You, lots of shots of whited-out gallery spaces, and disconcerting close-ups of vibrating vocal chords and – Ozon to Gaspar Noe: "Hold my drink" – cervixes.
Cinematographer Manuel Dacosse (The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears) adds odd elongations and angles to sustain the freak out factor.
If you've watched any movies before – forget the similarly themed Body Double or Dead Ringers; even Finding Dory will suffice – you'll soon ponder whether the twins are real or if they're the only set of twins.
Were L'Amant Double the work of any other film-maker – one without the credible female-oriented pictures 8 Women and Swimming Pool on his CV – it would make for unimaginatively troubling viewing.
Working from Joyce Carol Oates’s eighties mystery-pulp Rosamond Smith books, Ozon appears to be having a pop at all phallocentric sleaze. His efforts aren’t entirely convincing. They don’t make inappropriate girl-slapping erotica like they used to. And with good cause.