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At Cannes, ‘L’Amant’ arouses but Pattinson’s ‘Good Time’ disappoints

Unconventional lighting gives "Good Time," starring Robert Pattinson, its neo-noir aura. | A24

A good time was had by all at the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday at the competition press screening of “L’Amant Double,” by French director Francois Ozon (“Swimming Pool”). Based on the novel “Lives of the Twins” by Joyce Carol Oates under the pseudonym Rosamond Smith, this stylish over-the-top genre cocktail combines satire, melodrama, tongue-in-cheek horror tropes complete with a David Cronenberg homage, cats galore, and lots of sex.

It may just be thing for Cannes jury president Pedro Almodovar, and at this festival, the jury president is king. Only two more days until the jury begins its secret deliberations.

Circles and double images are the visual motifs that dominate “L’Amant Double,” starting with an internal look at heroine Chloe’s (Marine Vacth) gynecological exam, and including the long spiral staircase she ascends to sit in a mirror-image, face-to-face meeting with her handsome blonde psychiatrist Paul (Jeremie Renier). After a few appointments, Chloe declares herself cured of psychosomatic stomach pains, and Paul cuts her loose as a patient because he’s fallen in love.

The two move in together, and Chloe snoops through Paul’s things to find that he grew up under another last name. He denies it, but she discovers a psychiatrist of that name and makes an appointment, calling herself Eva. The new doctor, Louis, looks exactly like Paul, and reveals he’s his estranged and more successful twin brother. On their third appointment, he seduces her roughly.

Chloe/Eva begins to lead a double life, with gentle, good-humored Paul at home, and abusive, sex-crazed Louis in a palatial bedroom with a mirrored wall. Ozon makes it wilder and wilder, with dream sequences, hallucinations, and the double life all blending together. One complication after another is heaped on this saga, including the secret of the woman who drove the brothers apart, a pregnancy exam that leaves the gynecologist gasping, and Chloe’s psychic damage as a result of being unwanted by her mother. The twin plot comes apart and it comes together in a newly formed double image.

“L’Amant Double” | Cohen Media Group
“L’Amant Double” | Cohen Media Group

Hopes have been running high for the American independent feature “Good Time” by brother co-directors Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie, in competition here for the first time. “I heard it was good from someone who got a sneak preview,” whispered a colleague from a monthly magazine, as the lights were going down on another film last night. The 30-something Safdie brothers are still in the relatively early stages of their careers, and their short list of co-credits includes the basketball documentary “Lenny Cooke” and the low-budget dramatic feature originally titled “Go Get Some Rosemary,” and aka “Daddy Longlegs” or “Lenny and the Kids.”

Any talk of the Palme is likely muted after Thursday’s press screening. “Good Time,” starring an intense and energetic Robert Pattinson (“Twilight”), is a standard crime caper/heist movie featuring the kinds of twists, bad decisions and downbeat final moments that often pass for an indie film’s fresh take on the genre. If the directors dream to move on to mainstream thrillers and TV cop shows, this is their calling card.

Connie (Pattinson) involves his mentally disabled brother Ray (Buddy Duress) in a nervously executed bank robbery in Flushing, New York, that aborts in a bungled getaway when he naïvely doesn’t figure on the exploding dye pack that the cashier stuffed in the stashed cash. Ray is captured and jailed, and by the time Connie’s attempts to raise bail fail, his brother is in the hospital under guard. Kidnapping the unconscious and unrecognizably bandaged man in the bed and spiriting him away is the first step in an escalating all-night adventure that will involve a change of partners mid-stream.

“Good Time,” scheduled for a U.S. release in August, is a film that relies on fast cutting and a manipulative soundtrack to drive the action. The ominous crashing chords of tuneless techno-pop accompany Connie’s furtive race down a hospital hallway with his inert companion in a wheelchair. Every scene of action or suspense gets its jolt of energy from the ever-present pulse-pounding rhythms. The film’s contemporary take on neo-noir involves scenes lit by TV screens, phones, car interiors and streetlights.

Connie is a chameleon with a credible fib ready for every crisis. With a bad-luck story he wangles his way into the home of a sympathetic grandmother to wait for backup that never comes. His unconscious charge awakens and emerges from under the bandages as a battered ex-con named Nick (Benny Safdie). This story moves into a new phase involving a drug stash that Connie wants in on. The film’s otherwise straightforward narrative takes a detour with its one and only flashback, affording Safdie’s Nick a fast-talking audio showpiece of a monologue to narrate his back story

The prelude to the finale involves some black comedy and a series of chases on foot, first through an amusement park’s darkened house of horrors, and then through the park itself, which gets lit and set in motion, a move that is compulsory for any film featuring a night scene in an amusement park. Nick’s character is neatly disposed of, and a magnified closeup of Connie cuts to an image of Ray against a blank wall, where “Good Time” more or less comes full circle.