Updated: Jun 5, 2022
Blu-ray and DVD; 2017; Not Rated but contains graphic nudity, sex, disturbing imagery and subject matter; streaming via Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: The only extra is a conversation with director/writer François Ozon and actress Martine Vacth
FRANÇIS OZON, the French director who loves to shock and baffle his audience, with films like “The Swimming Pool,” a gem about a mystery writer immersed in a real-life mystery… or is it?
He really goes to town with “Double Lover.” Inspired by a Joyce Carol Oates novel, penned under her pseudonym Rosamond Smith, “Double Lover” is about a woman named Chloé. We meet the stunningly beautiful young woman (Marine Vacth) at the end of a (graphically shown) pelvic exam and complaining to her gynecologist of persistent abdominal pain. The doctor suggests the pain may be psychosomatic and refers Chloé to a soft-spoken young psychoanalyst named Paul (Jérémie Renier). Paul eventually ends the professional relationship when he feels attracted to Chloé, and the two become lovers. After happily living with Paul for a while, Chloé encounters his double, who turns out to be Louis, Paul’s identical twin (also played by Renier). Louis is also a shrink, but he’s the antithesis of his gentle brother, and Chloé begins to consult (and sleep with) him without telling Paul. Determined to uncover the mysterious history of the apparently estranged brothers, Chloé engages in detective work that only serves to haunt and confuse her.
Since this is Ozon, via Oates, things are far from what they seem, so viewers may be irritated with the rather contrived dénouement. That said, this is a film from which it’s hard to turn away, despite (or due to) the profusion of graphic visuals. Ozon admits employing cinematic tropes from Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma, but surprisingly doesn’t mention David Cronenberg in his interview. Anyone who has seen “Dead Ringers,” about pathologically close twin gynecologists, will certainly recall that ghoulish horror film during “Double Lover.”
Cohen Media Group presents the film in its Blu-ray transfer from digital. The result is excellent, with true skin tones and plenty of (some may say too much) detail and color saturation. There are ample special effects, especially the juxtaposition of twins and doubles. The HD Master Audio 5.1 track is very good, with sound effects and score well-balanced, and the French (with English subtitles) dialogue always clear.
The interview, conducted by Richard Peña at New York’s Quad Cinema, is interesting. Ozon slyly notes that Joyce Carol Oates had a “double,” in the form of her pseudonym, which she used with her “detective novels.” When Ozon read “The Lives of the Twins,” he felt it was “perfect for a psycho-sexual thriller,” inspired by “vintage Hitchcock and De Palma.” Ozon says his adaptation “preserved the toxic, perverse and very sexual spirit” of Oates’ book.
Vacth says she read the novel, which gave her a few ideas about Chloé’s psychology, but notes that the film persona is a bit different from the written one. Ozon says that after his previous film, “Frantz,” which he made in a more “classic” style, critics praised him for having “grown up … finally an adult filmmaker.” “No,” Ozon laughs, “I’m still a punk kid!” He says he wanted to focus on sexuality with “Double Lover,” because “in France, there are no sex scenes — except, maybe, a kiss at the end.” He “wanted to get into the female character, her subconscious … I wanted to have fun, be more playful.” He says his Belgian cinematographer, Manu Dacosse, did “atypical things for French cinema,” such as split screens, mirror images and zooms, to depict Chloé’s world.
Vacth tells how she did her scenes with the “Paul” character first, and afterward the ones with “Louis,” and never switched back and forth between the two. Ozon lauds de Palma, calling him “fearless … he’s not afraid of bad taste” and is always willing to go to further extremes in his films. About his own directing style, Ozon says, “I’m not that director who has envisaged it all — like Kubrick, who knew exactly what he wanted.” Ozon is interested in spontaneity and accidents: “I like what happens during filming. It enriches the story.”
— Peggy Earle