Double Lover is based on a deliciously plump mystery novella by Joyce Carol Oates called Lives of the Twins. In 1991 a US film was also inspired by the story, it starred Isabella Rossellini, Aidan Quinn, and Iman. Thankfully, Francois Ozon’s adaptation doesn’t resemble its predecessor in the slightest. Marine Vacth plays 25-year-old Chloé, a former model who’s flat-lining in her life and suffers from acute stomach pains which may be psychological. Looking for a cure, she meets a psychologist (Jérémie Renier) who believes he can help.
Here, unbridled nakedness is a significant theme in every aspect-- suggesting that only by baring it all can love and trust flourish. Exposure itself isn’t satisfactory, it must be deconstructed and scrutinized for any falseness. Isn’t this what we often subject our lovers to? Two early scenes had even audiences in Cannes gasping (it’ll be interesting to see how puritanical American audiences react), but overall, sex is a stage where Chloé’s deeply buried desires erupt from her bewitching marble exterior. Marine Vacth has the coolly beautiful face of one who’s used to getting the upper hand. In the opening scene, as her hair gets cut, she looks like she might be planning a bank robbery, at least something not at all decent. However, it’s wise to guard against assumptions in Ozon’s world. He capitalizes on characters harboring unfathomable secrets that even they don’t realize exist. Maybe that’s also why his films are often so memorable, because contrivances get shattered, albeit with a French finesse... julienned, perhaps.
Sometimes it’s impossible to tell the difference between the seducer and seduced. Unlike Black Swan, another heady erotic thriller where alter egos and dualistic metaphors duke it out, we’re not made to see the object of desire through a male gaze. Double Lover goes beyond the common trap of objectifying male or female beauty. Perhaps that’s partly because it’s impossible to see Chloé as a passive victim. Vulnerable, maybe—but victim, never. Like a French-styled Wonder Woman, she’ll emerge from any wreckage victorious.
Ms. Vacth played a similar character in Ozon’s earlier film, Young & Beautiful, then a teenage prostitute. In Double Lover, she’s more androgynous, but just as unapologetic and willing to push boundaries in her pursuit of truth. Ozon artfully-- at times relentlessly-- plays with pairs and doubling, but mostly there’s never more than three people in a frame. Mixing underpopulated wide spaces with a couple intensely engaged in carnal desire, often drives the energy of the film with nowhere to go but inward. Ozon turns the Joyce Carol Oates mystery into a libidinous journey down the rabbit hole of Chloe’s own mind. Whether we actually go anywhere becomes irrelevant. The story itself may not be always plausible, but that also doesn't matter, for the film makes up for it by its visually arresting sexual confidence. Revolving the erotic framework of the film around a slowly melting ice maiden has the effect of watching Chloe’s therapeutic process transform her and her outer relationships. Yet what are we truly seeing? Perhaps it’s nothing more but her id, ego and superego as parts of a triad undulating within itself.