As is the case with most directors, François Ozon‘s filmography is filled with highs (In the House) and lows (Angel). Unlike most, though, even Ozon’s lesser films reveal an artistry and craftsmanship that compels viewers to keep coming back for more. The director’s latest leans towards the stronger end of his filmography despite a penchant for some over the top shenanigans.
We first meet Chloé Fortin (Marine Vacth) in the simple act of getting a haircut, but our second glimpse is a far deeper one — quite literally — as we’re given a close-up view during her cervical exam. She’s suffering stomach pains, but with no physical explanation she’s directed into therapy with Paul Meyer (Jérémie Renier) who listens patiently as she recounts her life as a former model who enjoyed being watched, her troubled relationship with her mother, and more. Her stomach pain seems to retreat, and the two give voice and action to the feelings that have grown between them. They move in together, and then things get weird.
Chloé thinks she sees Paul one day with another woman, but after he denies it she discovers a therapist named Louis Delord (also Renier) who looks identical to Paul. She begins seeing him as a patient and then as a lover, and as she digs for the truth behind the two men the answers seem both contradictory and troubling.
One of Double Lover‘s many strengths is in its ability to keep viewers uncertain and entranced through to the end. Just when we think we have a grasp on the brothers and their possible plot to derail Chloé’s sanity the film reminds us that maybe her mental state is the real culprit. Similarly, every time we suspect she’s merely nuts a plot turn suggests she may actually be the victim of gas-lighting. It’s an experience guaranteed to leave viewers feeling as disoriented and dizzy as Chloé herself.
Ozon weaves his tale of deception and/or madness with striking visuals, both artsy and seductive, and the omnipresent themes of reflection and identity are given visible presence in mirrors, windows, and split screens throughout. We’re in the real world here, but we need to constantly remind ourselves that it’s being seen through Chloé’s lens as even a shattered mirror will still reflect.
Vacth, who previously did strong work with Ozon headlining 2013’s Young & Beautiful, impresses further here as a woman as unsure of herself as she is of these two men. She reveals something of her own dual nature as she shifts between fragility and fierce determination with plenty of room left over to explore the carnal relationship she shares with both men. Renier does equally compelling work as the two brothers, and while the only visible distinction is in their hairstyle he creates clear distinctions in his mannerisms, expressions, and even his gaze making their individuality clear.
Tone and temper aren’t typically issues for Ozon, but the two get away from him a bit here as moments that land perfectly well through visuals are often given voice simultaneously. Is he unsure that audiences will follow his tale closely enough and catch clues both subtle and broad? Possibly, but knowing how meticulous of a filmmaker he is it seems far more likely that every broad, melodramatic beat is intentionally present, and while it increasingly risks comparison to early 90s Paul Verhoeven Ozon never loses control of his creation.
Double Lover is a heady affair, both as a mind trip and a genitally-focused tale exploring the physical and mental state of identity. Imagine David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, but instead of being about the two doctors sharing a woman it’s about the woman torn between two doctors — Ozon doesn’t reach that film’s grimly beautiful audacity, but it finds a life of its own by focusing on someone struggling to find a life of their own.