Produced and directed by d'Amélie Develay et Jean-Pierre Devillers
"Before we touched our mother, we touched each other."
--Madelaine or Simone.
Twins, especially identical twins, exert a strange fascination. They confound our sense of individuality and appeal to our sense of the exotic. For some people, twins become the subject of erotic impulses; consider the public obsession in 2004 with the Olsen Twins' eighteenth birthday. Twins themselves may revel in their twinness, or react against it.
In 1996, public television in France broadcast a documentary on twins which inspired heated debate. Thought-provoking, controversial, and occasionally exploitative, Des Jumelles Singulières (Singular Twins-- a play on the term "singular," sometimes used to designate non-twins) makes for compelling viewing. It also, to give credit to French television, manages to handle with some class individuals who, in North America, would be fodder for the Jerry Springer Show.
The creators interviewed several sets of twins in and around Paris, and all of these pairs appear briefly in the finished film. However, they found their subject in two sets of twin sisters who, despite different childhood relationships, have developed unusually close bonds as adults.
Madelaine and Simone, known as the Diamond Sisters, have always shared an unusually close bond. Forty-five at the time of their interview, they recount a childhood where each regarded other children and even dolls as rivals for her sister's affection. Their other sister sometimes refers to the pair as "her sister," singular. At one point in the interview, one stumbles over correctly identifying her own name. It's often difficult to determine which one makes which statement; their conversation continually overlaps.
They dress, and have always dressed, identically, save for some minor, selected difference-- different cufflinks or watches. They share an apartment and a bed. They have always shared lovers, including one man with whom they enjoyed a long-term relationship. They do not like to be apart under any circumstances, and refused to be interviewed separately.
As young women, they learned to dance, and toured as an act in cabarets and casinos throughout the world. For them, performing together became a way of taking the world's tendency to see them as freakish, different, and turn it to their advantage. They talk openly and frankly of the "erotic impulses" a twin act incites in some of their audience. They knew, they say, that they would be guaranteed success.
The second set of sisters, Laurence and Christelle, were 25 at the time of the documentary. Unlike the Diamond Sisters, they often rejected each other in childhood, and tried to establish separate identities. At 20, however, they began posing together as artist's models, and they moved into a small apartment. The filmmakers take full advantage of those "erotic impulses" of which the Diamond Sisters speak; Des Jumelles Singulières features a lot of footage of Laurence and Christelle posing nude for an art class which, interestingly enough, includes a pair of twin students. Like the Diamond Sisters, they see posing together as a way of playing with and taking control of the world's tendency to gawk.
Although they dress differently, their relationship goes beyond what one normally sees in twin siblings. When Christelle talks about the possibility of incest-- which they have considered-- Laurence clearly becomes uncomfortable. Yet when they are interviewed separately, their bond becomes even more apparent, and slightly disturbing. Their obsession with their monozygotic identity has them questioning whether one could ever adjust to the death of the other.
With the Diamond Sisters, one suspects that goes without saying.
It's difficult to know what, if anything, Des Jumelles Singulières teaches us. These four women are unusual, even among twins. Perhaps in their exaggerated bond, they reflect on our sense of identity, and how that can be influenced by our relationships with other people.
The original broadcast of the documentary led to both sets of sisters reconsidering their lifestyles. With the Diamond Sisters, this went no further than, for a time, giving individual names when answering the phone. Shortly after, they resumed the practice of identifying the unit, nous. Christelle and Laurence moved to a larger apartment, and no longer share the same bedroom.
The Passionate Eye on CBC broadcast the documentary in Canada in the mid-1990s. Comments regarding critical response and after-effects have been taken from English-language framing sequences.