Chloé (Marine Vacth) is 25-year-old former model living in Paris. She suffers badly from anxiety and depression. She feels constant stomach pain that does not have a physical diagnosis. She is referred to a therapist named Paul (Jérémie Renier), but soon their doctor-patient relationship goes out of window after they have sex, start dating and rapidly move in together. When Chloé spies Paul with another woman on the other side of town – he insists he was at work in a psychiatric hospital the whole time – she begins investigating his secrets.
I think it is critically important to emphasise up-front that Double Lover, a new sexual thriller from widely fêted filmmaker François Ozon, is not a good film. It is not an inspired work. Its boldness in depicting sex and sexual power is patriarchal and weirdly misplaced. Its attempts at suspense, intensity and particularly eroticism result more often in derisive laughter than its intended effect. In the film’s very first shot Ozon depicts an open vulva in mid-vaginal exam, which he then cuts to an identically positioned crying eye – a woman’s head on her side. Is it audacious? Very probably, but it pretty much sets the ridiculous tone – sort of silly, sort of sleazy – for the rest of the movie.
Chloé’s hunt into her boyfriend’s past soon leads her to a previously unmentioned twin brother (Renier pulling double-duty throughout the film). He is a therapist as well, although his treatment involves violent sexual assault rather than talking and listening. The film makes the critical error of attempting to eroticise his behaviour, which spectacularly dooms the film from then on. It runs the well-worn and tired line of Chloé resisting and then eagerly accepting his advances. It’s the sort of ‘no means yes’ sentiment that might have barely flown without significant mainstream criticism a few years ago, but in a post-Weinstein age simply comes across as boorish, repellent and misogynistic. Chloé is the film’s protagonist, but she is also constantly depicted as its victim.
The performances are very good, despite the paucity of worthwhile material. Renier does an excellent job of playing two different brothers, while Vacth is admittedly very engaging as the increasingly paranoid and nervous Chloé. There are some decent scenes of suspense throughout the film, but they are not anything that hasn’t been seen many times before. Ozon plays heavily on the theme of twins: it’s difficult to find a scene where characters are not reflected in mirrors or windows, and it’s a motif that soon becomes repetitive and overplayed.
It would be actively rude to spoil the film’s ending, and I shall not do it here. I do, however, feel duty-bound to warn you. The climactic scenes will provoke you into either peals of laughter or apoplectic rage. It is hard to imagine there could be a middle response between the two. This film seems destined to appeal to arthouse audiences with a furtive desire to indulge in some trash.
This review was originally published at FilmInk.