Take a tad of Jacques Tourneur's "Cat People", David Cronenberg's "Dead Ringers" and steal the plot line of Darren Aronofsky’s "Black Swan" and you have Francois Ozon's "Amant Double" which premiered tonight at Cannes to a great round of cheers. The press--which greeted Sergei Loznitsa's hardhitting denunciation of Russian corruption (”A Gentle Creature”) with boos last night--was laughing out loud with joy throughout Ozon's new oeuvre. The question that prevented full appreciation of Yorgos Lanthimos' earlier film this week “The Killing of a Sacred Deer" ---namely, what meaning does this film have?--seemed to have been eviscerated from the corps. The word "eviscerated" is apt: the film tells the story of a woman with stomach pains who, to "get rid of this pain", goes to see first one therapist, and then another, both of whom advise her that going through some kind of therapy will "cure” her.
The therapy: to indulge in her fantasies of masochism. 30% of the film are scenes of being violently and willingly raped by her lover (appropriately, one of the therapists). While this treatment does not seem to do much for her stomach, at least at first, it does help with her second problem: frigidity.
Isn't this a fantasy all women have---to be treated like an object?
Here I am liberally paraphrasing Francois Ozon from my last interview with him, when I questioned him on his choice to make a film (”Young and Beautiful”) about a wealthy teenage girl who has a fantasy to be a prostitute with elderly men (and in acting upon this fantasy, does get that so-desired female orgasm). I had asked Ozon if he really thought it was the fantasy of women to be prostitutes. His response:
“Yes of course! The fantasy of many women. Of most people. Isn't it yours?"
This earlier film --and Ozon's comments-- did get a round of critical responses, and eventually he was constrained to offer an apology on Twitter. But this did not stop him from continuing in the same vein in this new film.
There is nothing particularly objectionable about a film director having his fantasies about what women want and need. Indoing so, he is simply continuing in the misogynist tradition of many films: the most recent being the aesthetic masterpiece "The Black Swan", which was roundly attacked by US film critics (and Saturday Night Live) for its similar misogyny. In fact, misogyny as spectacle is a tradition that even predates cinema, by a hundred years, when the neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot held shows in the Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, featuring hysterical female patients throwing themselves to the ground, whose problem, like that of Ozon’s protagonist, was their “frigidity”. Let Francois Ozon be Francois Ozon, and make films ad infinitum, featuring women with no personality who can only break through their identity crisis by being thrown to the floor and penetrated.
No, the problem was the uncritical audience.
"Fantastic! Five stars!" said one Chinese critic coming out of the theater and shaking my hand. "It was so entertaining! I loved the sex!"
“I adored it!” a French journalist smiled merrily. “The magic!”
"What a great genre film," piped up a Serbian colleague. "You know, a bit of Cronenberg! A bit of “Aliens”! Ozon was having fun! It was engaging!"
"Engaging?" I said. The first half of the film is frankly boring, with the well-hashed theme of "doubles", the banal psychotherapy sessions, and the lack of personality of the above-mentioned protagonist. It's only the second half that gets a bit spicier, with a car chase, a waving gun, and a few (hackneyed and borrowed from countless films) shots of the lost woman looking at at herself in the mirror, and seeing (aha! "Black Swan"!) somebody else.
In fact, the only interesting question that this film left me with is how does a woman who works as a museum guard (her only activity besides her “therapy”) afford the 150 euro an hour sessions?