Amant double, L’ (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★
Although its resolution is somewhat pedestrian for my taste, especially considering that it is directed by François Ozon, a filmmaker who makes intelligent and daring choices, “Double Lover,” adapted from the novel “Lives of the Twins” by Joyce Carol Oates, grips the viewer by the throat with a mystery so potent, it is required that we feel that every scene is tantamount to taking one step closer toward an answer we may or may not be ready for. I watched the picture with great interest and was impressed that even though it is a dramatic work first and foremost, it commands strong tension commonly found in memorable thrillers.
The plot is as ordinary as it is sinister: a client falls in love with her psychoanalyst. Most of us have come across this template before. It is curious, sort of taboo, and a solid stepping stone toward a more interesting avenue. After Chloé (Marine Vacth) and Paul (Jérémie Renier) move in together, the former, who has a history of crippling stomach pains especially when her life gets stressful, comes across her beau’s look-alike (also played by Renier). The men look so similar that she becomes convinced that they must be twins. However, Paul insists he does not have a brother, let alone a twin. Chloé, following her nagging intuition, decides to investigate by contacting the double.
Here is a film that requires carefully calibrated performances. Vacth and Renier—each—must deliver at least two convincing performances—but in different ways. Renier’s is the more obvious task because he plays two characters who look the same but everything else about them are different—almost polar opposites. Vacth, arguably, has the more difficult role depending on which man she is facing. In addition, we follow how she is when she is with strangers and when alone in a room where she must confront her thoughts and longings.
Despite the plot machinations and acrobatics, I believe this is a story of a woman whose deepest desire is to be seen. Pay close attention to the incredibly intimate opening scenes—the first taking place in a clinic where one’s body is completely exposed and the second in an office in which deeply personal information must be divulged to a complete stranger. We learn of the protagonist’s body, mind, and soul through the scope of a standard dramatic parabola. And yet—except for the ending—there is nearly nothing standard about its approach to telling its story.
I admire Ozon’s work, including this one, because he is not afraid to use the camera as more than a camera. Take the opening shot, for instance, as he employs the camera like a microscope. He is not ashamed to show a woman’s sex because the intention is not to provide sleazy titillation or to shock the viewer. Instead, the matter-of-fact manner of showing a body part, which just so happens to be a sexual organ, ties into the bigger, more elegant themes of the material. Here is a film for the most mature audiences, those who enjoy digging throughly into novels and studying every connection and symbolism. (Pay attention on how the film shows and uses glass and mirrors.)
This is not to suggest that “L’amant double” is inaccessible or opaque. It simply requires an open mind in order to become hypnotized by its wonderful control of tone, foreboding atmosphere, and pacing so assured—at times melodramatic—that clocking in at less than two hours is almost miraculous considering the thicker details of its central mystery.
Dans la maison (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★
It is only the first week of school and Germain (Fabrice Luchini), a teacher of literature, is already exasperated. Having assigned his students to write about their weekend, many of the papers he received each consists of about three sentences long—mentioning pizza, television, and their overall feeling of boredom.
But not Claude (Ernst Umhauer). His paper goes on great detail about making friends with a classmate named Rapha (Bastien Ughetto)—mocking his middle-class family and lifestyle. Germain is bothered by the sixteen-year-old’s invasion of a family’s privacy and yet he encourages Claude to keep writing because he shows promise.
Based on the play “The Boy in the Last Row” by Juan Mayorga and adapted to the screen by François Ozon, “Dans la maison” follows the footsteps of multilayered films about voyeurism while establishing an identity of its own. Though the pacing drags somewhat in the latter half, the bizarre, possibly dangerous, student-teacher relationship fascinates.
One cannot help but question who is in control. Though Germain reckons he is helping a promising student to improve his writing, there is something about Claude that is deeply unsettling. If he is manipulative enough to worm his way through a family’s private space, what damage could he bestow in a public space, the classroom and the school, when he ended up not liking what his mentor had to say? Germain is smart and very tough to impress. Claude is clearly very intelligent and we suspect that perhaps it is only a matter of time until he realizes that he does not need his teacher. On the other hand, what good is a writer without another who is willing to read his work?
The intrigue that unfolds during Claude’s conquest begins to bleed through Germain and Jeanne’s marriage. It is interesting how the more they discuss what the boy is up to, the more we notice the fractures that exist in Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Germain’s relationship. There are many shots of the two of them directly looking at each other in the eyes only when the gifted student is being discussed. When Jeanne begins to talk about her job in the gallery and the stresses that come with it, Germain is often disinterested. He feigns to give a damn and he itches for the conversation to go back to Claude.
The direction by Ozon is so fluid in that major turn of events are played small. More pedestrian filmmakers would have gone through the expected route. At some point, it was a challenge for me to pinpoint where realism has begun to touch the fantastic. At the same I didn’t mind because I was always curious about where it was heading and how relationships would unspool.
“In the House” is open to interpretation—very few absolutes—and that is what makes it compelling. For instance, which is the point of the story: the boy’s obsession with the family or the teacher’s addiction to the boy’s work? Do they need be mutually exclusive? Who is doing more harm: Claude for being the one who steps into that house or Germain for knowing what is going on but choosing to do nothing? Or is it Germain for not being more attentive toward what his wife has to say when, clearly, she is at a point where she needs more time and attention than the boy? The film urges us to think for ourselves and feel rather than being told what and how to process the information.
Refuge, Le (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Louis (Melvil Poupaud) and Mousse (Isabelle Carré), drug addicts, crash in a posh apartment. The next day, when the owner (Claire Vernet) enters the place to give a tour for a potential renter, she sees her dead son, Louis, on the floor with foam around his mouth. Mousse wakes up in a hospital, limbs tied to the bed. The doctor comes in and informs her that not only is her boyfriend dead, she has been in a coma and is carrying a child.
Based on the screenplay by François Ozon and Mathieu Hippeau, “Le refuge” is at times difficult to watch, especially its first few minutes, because of its unflinching honesty about people making very bad decisions and the consequences they must face.
I was fascinated in the way the camera is unblinking toward Mousse and Paul’s heroin addiction. Watching the two of them crave for the drug is like observing mice scavenging for food because they have not eaten in days. I watched in horror and curiosity as they search for veins in their arms, ankles, and necks that can serve as entry points for the needle. Even though the scene is disturbing, the camera is unafraid to look closely at a bruised arm. I felt like there is a story to each pinkish purple spot and it made me wonder if the characters are at all afraid that something might eventually go very wrong.
I admired that the material is brave enough to allow the audience to feel uncomfortable. Mousse’s pregnancy is handled with coldness when Louis’ mother finds out about it. She says, with arrogance, that Mousse should just abort the fetus because pregnant women who have a drug addiction compromises the child being born healthy. While there is truth in her reasoning, I found it distasteful that she uses Mousse’s addiction to hide what really bothers her about the predicament. Louis’ mother is a successful and proud woman. I gathered, at least from the little time we are given to get to know her, she is most concerned about her family’s reputation more than her potential grandchild who, by the way, is a direct link to her deceased son.
As our judgments toward the characters begin to accumulate, the picture jumps forward two months when Paul (Louis-Ronan Coisy), Louis’ brother, moves into the seaside home where Mousse plans to stay until she has delivered the baby. Paul is to spend two days with her before heading to Spain.
Paul and Mousse wanting to know more about each other is the heart of the picture and their relationship is dealt with clarity. Paul is a symbol of what Mousse can no longer have. No matter how much he reminds her of Louis, Paul is not and will never be his brother. Further, there is one detail about her guest that ensures Mousse can never be with him.
For Paul, Mousse is a symbol of what he has lost forever. Later, it is revealed that the brothers were never close, that all Paul recalls about Louis is that his sibling was an angry person. Through Paul and Mousse’s interactions, it becomes clear to us how much they, in their own ways, are still grieving.
“Hideaway,” directed by François Ozon, is a high caliber drama because it unfolds in a natural, beautiful, and intimate way with conclusions that are difficult to absorb and accept. I felt closer to the characters somehow and I was convinced that their story is based on someone else’s real circumstances, feelings, and choices.