When it comes to sex, the Cannes Film Festival is up for anything. Whether it’s deaf hotties sixty-nining in The Tribe, a topless Kristen Stewart doling out double hand jobs in On the Road, or some especially giggly scissoring in The Handmaiden, the last several years of Cannes have provided a vast array of cinematic carnality, and there are few limits to how explicit things can get: Just think of the marathon lovemaking in Palme d’Or winner Blue Is the Warmest Color, or the 3-D glasses handed out before Gaspar Noé’s pornographic Love that made one ejaculatory shot really pop off the screen.
You would think, then, that there would be few taboos left to shock a Cannes audience, but at tonight’s screening of the new film from French director Francois Ozon, L’Amant Double, there was one nude moment so audacious that the press gasped, laughed, and ultimately applauded. The entirety of L’Amant Double is pretty sex-soaked — Ozon basically channels Brian De Palma as he tracks troubled Chloe (Marine Vacth), who’s carrying on some awfully explicit affairs with twin psychiatrists (both of whom are played by Jérémie Renier, who’s game to make out with himself and get pegged) — and Ozon signals his gleeful intent with the very first shot after the opening credits.
That shot, dear reader, is a close-up of Chloe’s vagina spread open by a speculum.
Now, it’s always a little startling when you’re greeted with surprise vagina so early into a movie, and if you’re used to comparatively tame American films, it’s certainly novel to see that female orifice projected onto an IMAX-size screen as the whole audience gasps and titters. Still, even though I’m a gay man, I’d like to think I’m a veteran of surprise vagina at Cannes: Just last year at the festival, a tender lovemaking sequence in Staying Vertical suddenly smash cut to a baby’s head messily protruding from a woman in labor. (And that, kids, is how I met your mother.)
What I’m saying is, while L’Amant Double’s lovingly photographed close-up of a vagina certainly sent a jolt through the audience, it wasn’t just the vagina that made this moment an instant classic. It’s what Ozon did next that sealed the deal: The director match cut from one oval shape to another, dissolving from Chloe’s vagina to a shot of Chloe’s eye, the folds of skin around each matching up almost exactly. And then, just as the audience thought to themselves, He really did that, huh? Ozon took things one step further: A single fucking tear fell out of the eye.
It was so ridiculous, so earnest, and so beyond the beyond that the audience had to applaud. That is a serious chutzpah cut, to match a woman’s spread vagina with her crying eyeball, and I can’t imagine the level of commitment it requires to script such a thing, let alone to explain it to your actors, shoot it, and not laugh every single day in postproduction. I would say Ozon has some serious balls, but I’m not sure that’s the right anatomical metaphor to use when we’re discussing a scene with surprise vagina.
That’s not the only opening shot that had Cannes audiences buzzing this week: The Colin Farrell–Nicole Kidman thriller The Killing of a Sacred Deer opens with a very real beating heart on the operating table, and just as much love is lavished on that organ as Chloe’s nethers get in L’Amant Double. I’m amused, though, that between those two films, Cannes has provided startlingly vivid reminders of the ways we respond to cinema: through our eyes, through our hearts, and through our … well, you know. I haven’t seen a movie open on a shot of a brain yet, but there are still several more titles yet to screen here, so give it time.