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‘Amant Double’ Cannes Review: Festival Gets a Shot of Perverse Adrenaline

Francois Ozon’s film is the silliest, most sordid and least tasteful film at Cannes this year — and it’s an absolute gem

There comes a time — say, around Day 9 of a festival — where all the coffee in France can’t help the compounded exhaustion from more than a week of late nights, long days and dark, ponderous films.

And boy has Cannes learned that lesson well! Both of Thursday’s films gave sagging festivalgoers a lurid shot of adrenaline right in the heart. But when it comes to trashy fun, the outer-borough sleaze of the Safdie brothers’ “Good Time,” which screened for the press in the morning, simply cannot compete with the elegant Parisian perversity of Francois Ozon’s “Amant Double,” which did so in the evening.

Without overstating it, “Amant Double” (that’s French for “double lover”) is the silliest, most sordid and least tasteful film playing in the main competition this year — and it’s an absolute gem.

This tawdry erotic thriller finds young Claire (Marine Vacth) falling in love with her shrink, Paul (Jérémie Renier). After moving in with him, she finds out that Paul has a secret identical twin, Louis (Renier, obviously). Louis is also a shrink, and the always-levelheaded Claire does what anybody would do in such a chance situation: She begins a violent affair with one brother while living in contented domesticity with the other, all while trying to keep both relationships a secret. Of course!

Adapted liberally from Joyce Carol Oates’ “Lives of the Twins,” Ozon’s film also owes an awful lot to the work of Paul Verhoeven, Brian de Palma and David Cronenberg, and it knows it. “Amant Double” wears its references on its sleeves, and then takes off the sleeves, blows them up tenfold and parades them up and down the Croisette.

Like a mission statement for its over-the-top ambitions, the film opens with a sublimely pulpy match-cut, cutting from a gynecologists’ view of a vagina to an ophthalmologists’ view of an eye, and giving both body parts the exact same space in the frame. That got the room of jaded journalists on board from the start, and they cheered in approval as the film got even wilder as it went on (and yes, it goes places). Once over, it received warm and sustained applause.

It any other year, “Amant Double” would not be an awards contender, but I can see jury president Pedro Almodovar finding much to admire here. I still wouldn’t bank on the Palme d’Or, but a lower award wouldn’t be out of the question. That way, people can bank sophisticate points by telling their friends they’re off to see “that French film that won a prize in Cannes” and still get the ribald and salacious thrills “Fifty Shades of Grey” can only dream of delivering.