French film 'Double Lover' doubles down on erotic mystery

Updated 2/16/2018 11:36 AM
  • A young French museum employee (Marine Vacth) falls in love with her shrink (Jérémie Renier) in Francois Ozon's "Double Lover."

    A young French museum employee (Marine Vacth) falls in love with her shrink (Jérémie Renier) in Francois Ozon's "Double Lover." Courtesy of Cohen Media Group

"Double Lover" - ★ ★ ½

Just in time for St. Valentine's Day: an erotic mystery that opens with a micro-closeup of a woman's most intimate chamber morphing into a sideways eyeball, creating cinema's most audacious match-dissolve shot since a bloody bathtub drain became Janet Leigh's eye in "Psycho."

In Francois Ozon's elegantly stylish, nervy, pervy tale "Double Lover," both body parts belong to Chloe (Marine Vacth), a 25-year-old single French woman whose undiagnosed stomach pains become so severe that a doctor finally tells her, "I think it's mainly psychological."

So, Chloe sees Dr. Paul Meyer (Jérémie Renier), a bewhiskered blend of Daniel Craig and Ewan McGregor who's at least ethical enough to stop being her shrink before becoming her lover.

Chloe discovers why secretive Paul never reveals much about himself, and why he denies talking to a strange woman on the street even though Chloe clearly saw him.

Or perhaps she saw his estranged, identical twin brother, another psychiatrist named Dr. Louis Delord!

"Double Lover" resembles a twin-obsessed project originated by Alfred Hitchcock, then hijacked by David Cronenberg, then commandeered by soft-core porn guru Zalman King.

This story -- adapted from Joyce Carol Oates' "Lives of the Twins" (significantly, she wrote it under a pseudonym) ­-- connects increasingly graphic trysts that would turn the characters in "Fifty Shades of Grey" into 100 shades of embarrassed pink.

Chloe loves the tweedy, needy Paul, but she can't stop seeing the brutally blunt Louis, who utters pronouncements such as "Lying to seduce is a common practice among pretty women!"

Ozon, perhaps best known to American audiences for "Swimming Pool," reinvents the art of DePalma-esque split-screens. Widescreen shots of telescoping stairwells and antiseptically clean museum spaces provide nonverbal commentary on Chloe's constantly shifting frames of mind.

Vacth creates an empathetic, yet unreadable protagonist on a journey where delusions frequently overpower reality.

One thing's certain. If those inept French doctors at the beginning had been as successful as the doctors at the end in determining the cause of Chloe's stomach pains, they could have spared her from a lot of doubled-down trauma-rama.

• • •

Starring: Marine Vacth, Jérémie Renier

Directed by: Francois Ozon

Other: A Cohen Media Group release. Not rated; for adults only. In French with subtitles. Exclusive at the Yorktown Cinema, Lombard. 107 minutes

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