François Ozon/ France Belgium/ 2017/ 108 mins
@Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 8 Jun 2018
It takes roughly a minute to realise that The Double Lover is not going to be the most subtle of films. We see a vagina, clamped open in a gynaecology clinic, which abruptly match-cuts to the eye of protagonist Chloé (Marine Vacth). As interesting as it is for the openly gay Ozon to adopt the aggressively masculine shock tactics of Gaspar Noé or Lars von Trier, this is a honkingly blunt method of establishing the possibly retrograde theme of female sexuality and hysteria.
Double Lover never lets up from that moment on in a lurid arthouse sleaze-fest that riffs on De Palma riffing on Hitchock, and which also nods at Cronenberg‘s Dead Ringers. Chloé visits psychiatrist Paul (Jérémie Renier) to see if a psychological approach could cure the stomach pains she’s endured since childhood. They fall for each other and become a couple. She later finds out Paul has a secret. He has a twin, Louis, volatile and sexually aggressive where Paul is shy. She begins a troubling, ambiguous affair with the ‘dominant twin’.
Anyone who comes to the film expecting a polished sexual thriller such as Ozon’s earlier Swimming Pool will likely come away baffled. Double Lover is aware of its ridiculous nature. The tone of increasing frenzy is more in line with Darren Aronofsky‘s mother! and is likely to similarly divide its potential audience. The symbolism barely qualifies as subtextual; all mirrors and fractured images. There are narrative points that go nowhere; many of which are deliberately obfuscating what is essentially a fairly simple story. The effect is somewhat like having pieces of a jigsaw leftover when the picture is complete.
However, it is hugely entertaining in the giddy, grubby way that De Palma often is. It feels like Ozon winking at the audience and asking us to embrace the inherently risible nature of erotic thrillers that take themselves too seriously. The dialogue’s too clunky, the mystery too desultory, the resolution too obvious for a filmmaker as talented as Ozon to toss out sincerely. Vacth and Renier are clearly in on it, with Renier in particularly embracing the madness in a complete change from his ultra-realist work with the Dardennes brothers. Vacth’s doe-eyed opacity works well here, the blankness she displayed in Ozon’s Young & Beautiful translating as internal springs of emotion waiting to pour through her placid facade.
There are many who will outright hate Double Lover. It’s difficult however to see the film’s many flaws, open and ugly as oozing wounds, as anything other than intentional. Also, any film that lenses and scores its sex scenes like a surrealist horror is doing something worthy of attention. There’s a perverse, nasty playfulness at work that’s unlike anything the prolific Frenchman has produced since his earliest work, and it’s so much fun.