Double Lover July 30, 2018
1 Hr., 47 Mins.
seeking transparency is Chloé (Marine Vacth), his waif of a live-in girlfriend who used to be his patient. Over the course of Double Lover, Paul will not tell Chloé everything she’d like to know, and will dependably tuck away the details of various parts of his life. Chloé will thus be motivated to parse through his belongings in the name of some answers.
Who could blame her? In Double Lover, Chloé is ensnared in a storyline reminiscent of the ones you’d find in the American erotic thrillers of the 1980s and ‘90s. I can imagine this film being made by Paul Verhoeven, who’s best known for his work on 1992’s Basic Instinct. Or, more fittingly, David Cronenberg, whose Dead Ringers, from 1988, bears more than a couple similarities.
Not long after Double Lover opens (the earlier part of the inaugural act covers the leads’ transitioning from doctor and patient to lovers), Chloé moves into Paul’s posh apartment. Belatedly, though, Chloé comes to realize that she knows very little about the man to whom she is committing herself after she finishes unloading her boxes. She has never met his parents, and has gotten acquainted with very few of his friends. She doesn’t really know anything about his life before she came into it. When she sheepishly tries to get information out of him, Paul reacts passively. His answers are frustratingly indirect.
Chloé will not have it. So she snoops. And, by coincidence, discovers that Paul has a twin brother named Louis, who is also a psychiatrist. Intrigued, Chloé schedules an appointment with him. Upon arriving, she uses a fake name, and doesn’t reveal her connection to his brother.
Apart from their interchageable faces and bodies, there is little resemblance between Paul and Louis. Paul is shaggy-haired, earthy, and affectionate; Louis gels his locks into a clean swoop, is metrosexually groomed, and is antagonistic. While Paul’s methods of psychotherapy conventionally consist of him sitting quietly while allowing his patients to sort out their thoughts, Louis is harsh — he favors bullish beration — as a way to intimidate his patients into confessing their woes. (This, I presume, doesn’t work.)
Chloé’s first meeting with Louis is tense and abrupt. (He still charges her full price, though.) But she is nonetheless intrigued, and finds herself attracted to him in spite of his coldness. She returns; soon, she is having an affair with her lover’s adversarial sibling. The movie treats this almost as if it were an excusable part of an ongoing investigation.
It is suggested that there are ulterior motives on at least one of the brothers’ parts. Paul has erased Louis from his life, but why? From the time the secondary affair commences, the movie becomes increasingly mosaic — the lines between fantasy and reality are smudged (there’s a tricky dream sequence during which Chloé imagines herself having sex with both Louis and Paul, and, at one point, Renier gets the chance to make out with himself), and the sexual acrobatics become progressively intense. A good post-#MeToo movie this isn’t, considering just how much Chloé and Louis’ relationship is based on violence and coercion.
Ozon doesn’t want us to take Double Lover seriously. It is a carnal carnival, and a stylish erotic-thriller pastiche, supposed to be hypesensorial and narratively outré — a seductive merging of softcore erotics and Hitchcockian-cum-Freudian strife. I found much of it outlandish, especially its ending. My antipathy for the finale, however, might have been encouraged by my belief that 107 minutes is far too long for a movie working so hard to be outrageous. Cinematic freneticism must be punchily delivered, not indolently so. And sometimes Double Lover meanders, though not so often that it becomes inimical.
I still find Double Lover impressive. Ozon knows this material is lowbrow and a little bit dated, but he writes and directs the movie with admirable vigor. Earlier this year, Film Comment compared him to the French dramatist Claude Chabrol, who, like Ozon, was and is known for working prolifically. The publication noted that Ozon’s films, not unlike Chabrol's, are remarkably self-contained, even if they often lean toward the “exercise” side of things. Certainly, Double Lover is an exercise. But it also serves as evidence that Ozon, even when in churn-out mode, can make something interesting even when it isn’t altogether successful. C+
romise to tell me everything, and hide nothing?”
“Promise to stop getting into my stuff?”
So goes a post-coital exchange between the lovers at the center of Double Lover (2018), a new thriller written and directed by François Ozon. The more private of the two is Paul (Jérémie Renier), a sinewy, beach-blonde psychotherapist; the one