Elevating classical mysterious tropes in this psychosexual re-filtering of twin drama, the French arthouse icon François Ozon returns to UK screens today with a radical departure from his latest. L’Amant Double takes a seductive spin on all psychodramatic elements we know and love in a tale that’s bound to twist your expectations. We met with the director to chat this visual projection of his characters subconscious, inspiration and the future of arthouse cinema.
How did you approach shooting this so shortly after Frantz, given that there is quite a transition between the material.
After Frantz, which was very classical and restrained, I wanted to go to something more shocking and disturbing – and more sexual. With Frantz it was the first time in a while when I had no sex scene so I wanted to go to something else. In terms of mise-en-scène I wanted to have the challenge to experiment with things I have never done before. And the material of this script was perfect for that.
For a long time psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic theory informed how people think about films. I’m curious about how you came to approach and visualize this.
I wanted to provoke in the spectator the feeling that a psychoanalyst can feel listening to someone speaking during a session. If you rewatch the film you realize in the first 10 minutes everything is said, all the stories. As a spectator though you have too much information and you are not able to connect everything. It was the idea of the film to be on the language for the first few minutes, and then the rest of the film to be more visual.
The film is abundant in psychoanalytic symbols well beyond the therapy sessions.How did you approach shooting this ruptured identity of Chloé’s character?
For me the idea was to be in the subconscious of this character – to mix reality, fantasy, dreams and to let the audience make his own film. I play with all these elements. It’s a way to create the portrait of this woman – she’s suffering of stomach pains, she makes investigations about herself. It is the work of the audience to join in on this investigation and try to make the connection between all the elements of the story.
The dreamlike sequences where she’s joined by Paul and Louis as children are particularly interesting.
For me it was a scene that could be in a gallery, like a performance. It was a way to say that twins are like masterpieces of nature, that twins could be exhibited in museums. It was a game with that: mixing the job of Chloé with her story with the twins.
Frantz came at a time when feelings of nationalism were perhaps more needed in order to cope with the rise of the right pretty much everywhere. Whereas L’Amant Double seems to play into a polar opposite, that need for lies in order to cope with an unsatisfactory reality.
It’s not just about lies. It’s about the need for fantasy, imagination and dreams to support the reality. In Frantz, the character of Anna preferred to sustain lies to support the real. In this film I think Chloé is searching in imagination maybe the key for her pain.
Is there any specific message you hope audiences will draw from the film this time?
I’m not political. I ask questions, but I have no answers.
Expanding on the tension between psychoanalysis and social message, I read somewhere that you cite Rainer Werner Fassbinder as a key inspiration.
Fassbinder was very important for me as a student when I wanted to make movies because I was divided between two kinds of cinema – realistic cinema and a more stylized cinema. When I discovered the films of Fassbinder I discovered so much freedom in the way of telling stories – playing with realistic stories and at the same time very stylish mise-en-scène. I had the key that it was possible to mix different influences.
Your films often deal with controversial subjects. I read that you read criticism and reviews of your films. Do you think they often capture the essence of the films?
I’m curious of course to see how people respond to the film. But I’m very philosophical in front of that. It’s funny to see the reactions in one country and then in another country and to make comparisons with the success of a film.
Your films do receive quite wide international distribution.
It’s more and more difficult for foreign movies. In America there’s no place for these kind of films. And I’m afraid that in coming years the only opportunity to be seen will be on a streaming platform. I think it’s sad. Because I think people will see only American movies in cinemas. And I think it’s important to have foreign films available.
How has streaming influenced your filmmaking then?
I think we can still have freedom on platforms. But it is the loss of cinema, which is sad. I feel that when I go on the subway in Paris I see many children watching films on phones. I’m so sad that it’s the reality. What can I do, I have to make films for telephones. But if a film is good, it’s good no matter the exhibition space.
Talk to me about your position as one of the filmmakers most heralded for their contribution to queer cinema.
The most supportive audience is the LGBT audience. I discovered that when I was making short films, when I began my career, they were the most faithful and supportive. I’m like an old female singer of the 60s a little bit. It’s very touching. For me as a young man it was important to see movies in which I could recognize myself and I could see a different way of thinking. I know it’s important for people who feel different to see films that speak about these differences and specificities. I respect that.
Although representation of queer characters has improved, it does remain quite two-dimensional in most films. Yet you manage to avoid that.
I try to show complex characters. It’s important for me not to be too simple. I like to show the complexity of characters, to show people who are strange.
It’s interesting here, especially with regard to Chloé, how you frame these complexities of the characters through the mirrors of the mise-en-scène.
I love mirrors, it’s always beautiful to use it in a film. There is a reflection and a philosophical meaning very often. It allows you to imagine many things with mirrors. Douglas Sirk said something along the lines of give me a mirror, stairs and an actress and I can make you a film.
L’Amant Double is now out in cinemas.