You could probably call Francois Ozon France’s most significant auteur laureate of female sexuality without getting much blowback. His films almost all center on women exploring aspects of their bodies, their yearnings, their obsessions. Two of his first international hits, Under the Sand and Swimming Pool, featured women whose feelings about sex, love and attraction fuel confusion and delusions with the tone of mystery. Now, just in time for Valentine’s Day, Ozon dives back into that well with his latest, Double Lover.
Marine Vacth plays Chloe Martin, a delicate and sad young museum docent whose physician suspects her pain may be more psychological than physical. Chloe begins seeing a handsome, placid therapist named Paul (Jeremie Renier), and opens up to him about her fantasies. As their sessions progress, Paul confesses his attraction for Chloe just as she seems to be on the cusp of a breakthrough. They break off their treatment and decide to move in together. But that’s when Chloe begins to suspect that Paul is not the man she thought she knew… or maybe he’s more than she thought.
Ozon has been compared to Hitchcock, but it’s not a perfect fit. Ozon’s films — his dramas, at least; he also makes the occasional comedy — project an eerie stillness, a threat of mystery. They are like thrillers unaccented by much humor. And he’s more modernist in his sensibilities, with a Cronenberg-esque sense of the grotesque. (It’s adapted from a Joyce Carol Oates story, a writer also known for her interest in sexually ambiguous storytelling.)
His camera is curious but never reveals too much, though here especially he makes ample use of reflections, split-screen, twins, visual echoes, Doppelgangers and mirrors — sometimes mirrors layered upon other mirrors — to stress the duality that gives the film its name. But most of the action seems to take place inside the characters’ minds. (If I were to compare Double Lover to other recent films, I’d say it fits midway between The Girl on the Train and Nocturnal Animals, with a seasoning of David Lynch and touches of Polanski’s The Tenant).
The somewhat predictable and slow plotting at the beginning is more than made up for by the end, as Ozon delves into sexuality with his trademark unblinking frankness (there are threesomes, pegging and just hot missionary sex), but he also plays an effective game of hide the ball: What is Chloe seeing, and can she trust what she find out?
This isn’t exactly romantic comedy when it comes to happy Valentine’s Day moviegoing, but for those who are single, or just suspicious of their partners, it’s a fine way to spend an evening in a darkened room.
— Arnold Wayne Jones
Opens tomorrow at the Angelika Film Centers in Dallas and Plano.