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Double Lover

Wednesday Feb 14, 2018
'Double Lover'
'Double Lover'  

From it's very beginning François Ozon's new film "Double Lover" offers imagery that speaks directly to core issues of body horror, sexuality, doubling and the superimposition of unrelated - but mutually resonant - themes and concepts. An unflinching shot of female genitalia fades to a shot of an unblinking eye, as seen from a sideways perspective; this is how we meet Chloé (Marin Vacth), the young woman whose story (or is it a psychotic nightmare?) this is.

Chloé has issues, including psychosomatic stomach pains, so she starts seeing a handsome therapist named Paul (Jérémie Renier). As the months pass, Chloé makes progress; eventually, she's well enough that Paul recommends they end their sessions. Another reason for this, as it happens, is that Paul has fallen in love with her and it's not long before their now-discarded therapeutic relationship yields to a romantic one. But as soon as they move in together, Chloé begins to pick up on what she thinks are gaps and inconsistencies in Paul's story. She discovers an old passport that lists him under a different name; why? And what's up with the fact that she spots him across town, talking to another woman when he swears he's been at work all day?

Eventually the truth comes to light: Paul has a twin brother named Louis, also a psychotherapist, from whom he is estranged. Curious - twins have always fascinated her - Chloé forsakes appointments with her new shrink and starts seeing Louis instead. But her gambit is soon shredded by the sharp-eyed Louis, who spots her lies and throws her out, insisting that she either start telling the truth or stay away. His aggression becomes sexual as he begins to resort to "applied techniques" that include energetic sex. Is this a #MeToo moment? Or are Chloé's fantasies bleeding into her perceptions of reality?

As the situation takes darker and more sinister turns, the question becomes more urgent and the tension increases. This is Ozon's take on the reality-melting side of the thriller genre and it stands with nail-biting classics like "Jacob's Ladder" and much of Cronenberg's oeuvre, with "Dead Ringers" in particular coming to mind.

Ozon has made thrillers and thriller-esque films that blend puzzles with passions before - last year's "Frantz" memorably occupied that slot. He also made "Swimming Pool," a 2003 murder mystery in which a writer's imagination fills in blanks that might not even be there, to chilling effect. But "Double Lover" is something else again and is far more jittery and surreal than earlier Ozon efforts, arriving as it does on the heels of trippily uneasy fare like Darren Aronofsky's "mother!" and Yorgos Lanthimos' "The Killing of a Sacred Deer," you have to wonder if something's in the water.

Ozon masters the film's atmospherics even if he doesn't quite manage to conceal the late-breaking twists... well, save for one, which I won't spoil, but it's a doozy and it puts the perfect finishing touch on a movie that's already full-on barmy but terrific (if not exactly good, clean) fun. Ozone has accomplished a thrill-ride of angst, horror and psychic fracture.

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