Like much of Ozon’s oeuvre, Double Lover is as visually pristine as its subject matter is depraved, but here the psychological angle simply feels banal, heaps of kinky sex notwithstanding.
François Ozon’s provocative style, which melds striking visual imagery with transgressive psychosexual themes, veers into impeccably stylish exploitation in Double Lover. We meet Chloé (Marine Vacth) in various stages of revealing vulnerability, first as the long hair that conceals her face is aggressively cut away, and then with a literal view inside of her body via a POV shot through a gynecologist’s speculum.
The intricate torment of Chloé’s interiority is ultimately the film’s central mystery. The abdominal pains that sent her to the examination table cannot be physically explained, so a referral to a psychiatrist is made. Chloé overtly lusts for her handsome, restrained shrink, Paul (Jérémie Renier), and he soon advises her that they must end their professional relationship so they can begin a romantic one. Immediately upon moving into his lavish condo, she discovers a different last name on his old passport, and she doesn’t completely buy his explanation of switching to his mother’s maiden name for vague professional reasons. One day she happens across a man who turns out to be Paul’s heretofore unmentioned twin brother, Louis (Renier again), who also practices psychiatry. But where Paul is humble and contemplative, Louis is arrogant and aggressive, and soon Chloé finds herself at the mercy of the evil twin’s violent sex therapy and manipulative mind games.
Ozon succeeds in presenting sequences of dazzling mise-en-scène: Chloé works as a gallery attendant in a contemporary art museum. This frequently provides stark and vivid backdrops, and there’s one of the more gorgeous shots you’re likely to find of an ornate spiral staircase—clichéd as that structure’s use in psychological thrillers may be. As in his 2003 film, Swimming Pool, Ozon makes the viewer question whether a salacious character is simply a projection of the protagonist’s mind. But while Swimming Pool did so artfully, with Charlotte Rampling’s writer’s block-stricken author perhaps conjuring a lusty houseguest in the course of her process (creativity often being celebrated for its close proximity to madness), Double Lover draws its psychological unraveling from the “hysterical woman” trope and applies the hallucinatory elements haphazardly, in ways purposely meant to misdirect the viewer in what can sometimes border on bad faith.
Like much of Ozon’s oeuvre, this film is as visually pristine as its subject matter is depraved, but here the psychological angle simply feels banal, heaps of kinky sex notwithstanding. The film’s thorny rape fantasies fail to achieve the same level of compelling moral ambiguity as found in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle (2016). The twin fixation—fetishized to the point of an incestuous ménage à trois dream sequence—goes to outlandish lengths with exposition on the medical definition of parasitic twins and chimeras. There’s also a Rosemary’s Baby vibe throughout the film, due in some part to Vacth’s pixie cut giving her a slight resemblance to Mia Farrow, and this atmosphere develops further when Chloé is impregnated by one of the brothers. The disturbing reality of the fetus she carries remains based in a sensationalized scientific realm rather than a supernatural one, as does its theme of traditional psychiatry versus tortured carnality, which otherwise harkens to Lars von Trier’s vastly superior Antichrist (2009). And the film’s focus on mind-bending lookalikes that may be delusions of a fractured mind also recalls Denis Villeneuve’s enigmatic Enemy, with that 2013 film’s shocking and inexplicable final shot of an enormous shrieking tarantula recoiling against the entirety of a bedroom wall far outpacing Ozon’s final image of perhaps the tritest possible visual metaphor for the shattering of a fragile psyche.