Released, fittingly or not, on Valentine’s Day, Francois Ozon’s “Double Lover” is an audaciously carnal and outrageous wild ride that may wind up a cult classic someday. For now, though, it is simply grade-A trash whose ability to dazzle the senses as its ludicrous story progresses, isn’t quite enough to satisfy.
Displaying his familiar themes of repressed desire and the human need to fantasize, Ozon, whose credits include last year’s “Franz,” has created a full-bodied cocktail of sex, suspense and a little psychosis. Brazenly derivative, the film suggests Brian De Palma, Roman Polanski, David Cronenberg, David Lynch and Darren Aronofsky combined. It is loosely adapted from a pseudonymously written Joyce Carol Oates novel and is inspired by identical-twin and doppelganger elements in thriller and horror films.
Chloe (Marine Vacth), an emotionally wobbly young woman sporting Mia Farrow’s “Rosemary’s Baby” haircut, is told by her doctor that her stomachaches are psychosomatic. She’s referred to kindly psychiatrist Paul Meyer (Jeremie Renier). After several sessions of spilling out her insecurities, she states she’s cured.
Doctor and patient acknowledge they’re attracted to each other. Chloe and her cat, a ringer for Isabelle Huppert’s feline in “Elle,” move in with Paul.
The heat intensifies when Chloe discovers that Paul used to have a different surname. A bit of sleuthing leads her to Louis Delord (Renier, with different hair), a shrink who tells her he’s Paul’s estranged “mirror twin.” Where Paul is upright, domestic and dull, Louis is aggressive, controlling and egregiously unprofessional. Still, Louis’ “applied techniques” — rough sex in a hidden bedroom — excite Chloe.
Chloe learns both men share a dark secret, and, hunting for details, she unravels. Ozon keeps things hazy as to whether what Chloe perceives is real or imaginary. In the final act, he enters horror terrain.
With zero subtlety, Chloe’s not-for-everyone adventure is crazed and alluring, containing De Palma-style reflective surfaces and ubiquitous mirrors, plus frequent doppelganger imagery. Also in the picture are twin-related pathologies — both human and feline — close-up vaginal shots, twisted-looking museum art and lots of kinky sex.
Ozon directs it all with aplomb and wisely avoids taking the material overseriously.
Unfortunately, though, this spectacle, while impressive, cannot prevent the ridiculousness of the underlying story — which Ozon fills with mediocre, sometimes baffling, twists — from showing.
The characters are too thinly defined to affect us substantially.
Chloe, whom Louis treats violently and constantly abusively, is often presented with a shabbiness that shouldn’t go unmentioned.
Vacth and Renier, both Ozon veterans, give bold performances that are clearly what their director ordered, with Renier particularly strong in evil-twin mode.
Jacqueline Bisset, too, plays a dual role. Myriam Boyer is a kick as a slightly creepy neighbor.
Two and a half stars
Starring: Marine Vacth, Jeremie Renier, Jacqueline Bisset and Myriam Boyer
Written and directed by: Francois Ozon
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes