Erotic Secrets and Striking Imagery Satisfy Francois Ozon’s ‘Double Lover’

An unusual happenstance is only the beginning as a young woman, Chloe (Marine Vacth), falls deeper into the rabbit hole with a man she barely knows. Based on Joyce Carol Oates’ story “Lives of Twins,” and penned for the screen by writer and director Francois Ozon, “Double Lover” amplifies the level of eroticism by delving into the main character’s unstable psyche.

Everything there is to know about leading lady, Chloe, is revealed in well-acted therapy scenes, which Ozon interestingly frames using a variety of mirrors and inhabiting close-ups. But after opening up to her handsome psychotherapist, Dr. Paul Meyer (Jeremie Renier), he notes that he cannot go on with the sessions as his feelings for her have made it impossible to continue their professional relationship.

The two decide to move forward with a romantic relationship, and they immediately move into a contemporary apartment together. The relationship appears as a quick and hazy dream at first. She takes a dull job at a nearby art museum with sex being her only stimulation. But as the two begin to get situated into the daily routine, Chloe realizes she doesn’t know much about Paul’s life, but he, being her former therapist, knows everything. The juxtaposition leaves for unsettling tension to prevail.

While making her way through her mundane commute, Chloe sees Paul, or someone who looks just like him, outside her bus window. She knows that it is not really Paul as she is far away from where he works. Upon further investigation, she discovers that the look-a-like is Paul’s twin brother, Dr. Louis Delord (Renier). Paul refuses to acknowledge his relationship to his twin, Louis. Nonetheless, Chloe is intrigued. She adopts a fake identity to get closer to Louis, but he quickly realizes her true motivation.

Renier pulls double duty, playing the roles of both brothers. While Paul is a gentle lover, subdued yet passionate in his physical relationship with Chloe, Louis is aggressive and abusive. The actor portrays both men with honesty. As she involves herself further with the two men, Louis’ aggressive manner begins to rub-off on Chloe – leading to a scene that includes Paul and a strap-on.

Ozon, most notably known for his early films “Swimming Pool” and “5X2,” opens the picture with a close-up shot inside a vagina. As the camera pulls out to reveal the full image, the picture superimposes into an eyeball of the leading character. Other scenes are far bolder, cutting from inside the vagina as the leading character climaxes in her various sexcapades. It’s a unique representation of sexual acts that only a French filmmaker could properly pull off. He treats many of the continuous sex scenes with a voyeuristic eye. The unsettling, sometimes art-house imagery, gives the film a recognizable flavor.

The French produced film made its North American debut at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival this month, following its global premiere at Cannes Film Festival in 2017. The erotic thriller, opening on Valentine’s Day, draws inevitable comparison to the American franchise, “Fifty Shades,” which opened its third (and supposedly final) chapter this past weekend. However, the level of camp, eroticism, and visual gaze produced in the French romp highly outplays the Americanized comparison – in all the best ways. Not to say that “Double Lover” is significantly superior, but the picture does serve as a more solidified guilty pleasure.

Double Lover” opens Feb. 14 in select theaters.