Director Francois Ozon's followup to last year's elegant black-and-white WWI love story, Frantz, Double Lover is an erotic psychological thriller with a bunch of plot zigzags and weird sex content that isn't always satisfying or clear. It's a masterwork in tension, though, loosely based on the novel Lives of the Twins by Joyce Carol Oates. It screens Wednesday and Thursday at the Capitol Theatre.
Chloe (Ozon collaborator Marine Vacth) is our fragile protagonist who, in the film's opening scene, undergoes a gynecological exam. The audience is treated to a medical close-up — literally, her pulsing vaginal canal — that recalls the intestinal opening shot of last year's Killing of a Sacred Deer. Chloe's exam is only the latest in her ongoing pursuit of a remedy for persistent stomach pain.
Her doctor recommends psychotherapy — the pains may be anxiety-related? — and so she is referred to one Paul Meyer (Jeremie Renier, not to be confused with Jeremy Renner), a hunky, soft-spoken shrink of Daniel Craig coloring who begins to fall in love with her. They begin a relationship. Chloe, having found happiness, seems to be cured. But when she learns Paul is keeping part of his life secret, her stomach pains return. The secret is a twin brother, Louis (played masterfully by Renier), another psychoanalyst. Chloe secretly schedules an appointment with him and learns that his methods differ dramatically from Paul's. Indeed so: His sessions consist chiefly of rape.
There is a dark incident in the twin brothers' past, and as the film races toward its violent third-act revelations, we're never sure what's real and what's in Chloe's head. This creates a sense of pervasive unease in the audience, an unease exacerbated by the film's voyeuristic tendencies and its abundance of taxidermic cats. Regarding Double Lover's sexual content, I'll say only that the rapey therapy sessions are just the tip of an iceberg that includes "twincest" fantasies and a moonlit strap-on soiree. (That other critics have largely referred to this content as "campy" or even "fun" gives me pause.)
By the end, there is a medical explanation for Chloe's tummy trouble. But it calls into question 60 or 70 percent of what preceded it, an avalanche of truly bizarre stuff that often seems at odds with Ozon's shadowy stylings and the film's Parisian sensibilities. According to the reporting pool at Cannes, where Double Lover premiered, the film was a "hugely derivative" mashup. I noted a few similarities with movies directed by Brian De Palma and recognized maybe two Rosemary's Baby references in retrospect, but I finished my viewing wondering if the whole thing might have just been a big fat pun: a playful dramatization of the phrase "curiosity killed the cat," perhaps, or an exegesis of "therapist" vs. "the rapist."