One of France’s most prolific and renowned directors, Francois Ozon talked to Variety about his provocative erotic mystery “Amant Double,” which will premiere in competition at Cannes on Friday. Sold by Paris-based Films Distribution, “Amant Double” has been picked up by Cohen Media Group for North America and has been sold to all major territories. Ozon’s previous film, “Frantz,” a black-and-white period film, won big at this year’s Cesars, France’s equivalent of the Oscars. “Amant Double” stars Marine Vacth, the breakthrough star of “Young & Beautiful” (which competed at Cannes in 2013) as Chloé, a fragile young woman who falls in love with her psychoanalyst, Paul (Jeremie Renier). She eventually moves in with Paul but soon discovers he is concealing a part of his identity.
What is the genesis of “Amant Double”?
My inspiration for this film came from a novel by American author Joyce Carol Oates called “Lives of the Twins,” a short psychological mystery which she wrote under the pseudonym of Rosamond Smith.
Since the original novel is in English, did you consider making the film in English with British or American actors?
I’m often offered to direct English-language material, and the prospect enthused me but it takes too long, at least one or two years, to get projects greenlit when you shoot in another language than French. Even with “Franz,” which was partly in German, it took longer than usual to get the project financed. In France, I enjoy a tremendous freedom, I’m able to shoot a film every year and can tackle different genres and go from Western to comedy to thriller.
The last movie you presented at Cannes in competition, “Young & Beautiful,” stirred a controversy. Do you expect “Amant Double” to also spark strong reactions?
With “Amant Double,” I wanted to create a sexual thriller with strong psychological tension. The idea was not to shock but rather depict the complexity of lust. It’s definitely a departure from “Frantz” which was rather chaste; the two protagonists did nothing more than exchanging a kiss. “Amant Double” has more of a thriller bent than “Young & Beautiful.”
Since you’re so versatile, it’s difficult to pin you down as a director. Which of your films are the most personal?
I’m everywhere in my films but in a covert way. “Under the Sand” [about a woman who is in denial of her husband’s disappearance and starts to mentally disintegrate] for instance, tells a story which I lived through.
The fact that you explore so many different genres also allows you to tap into a wider talent pool.
The casting is always crucial. For “Amant Double,” since the roles were highly demanding, revealing, I needed to work with actors who trusted me fully, and actors whom I felt close to. Since Marine Vacth starred in “Young & Beautiful” we became friends and she became a woman. I also had cast Jeremie Renier in “Potiche” and enjoyed working with him. When I put Jeremie and Marine together there was an immediate chemistry, they were captivating to watch from the start.
The Cannes Film Festival can sometimes make or break a film’s career. Are you anxious to show “Amant Double” in competition?
I feel very lucky to show “Amant Double” in competition at Cannes. The film will be released in French theaters so the stakes are high. Local critics in Cannes often seem eager to gun down French movies, but even then it doesn’t prevent films from being sold around the world over here. A competition slot at Cannes is an obvious commercial boost.
You’re one of the handful of French directors whose films travel worldwide and almost always get U.S. distribution. How do you explain the international success of your films?
I follow the commercial career of each film I direct, I traveled with them abroad. My films are co-financed by foreign companies (through pre-sales or co-production) so the international input is vital. I think overseas audiences appreciate the versatility, they like to be surprised from one films to another unlike in France where people tend to stereotype directors as if they needed some kind of predictability.