There are two pleasures in life that without them, we living things would never exist: gastronomy and sexuality. And there are many talented people out there that try their best to portray their interest for it on many artistic endeavours, especially in cinema.
Such talented auteurs out there are Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, The Third Man), Catherine Breillat (Romance, Fat Girl), Lars von Trier (Nymphomaniac); and we have the newcomers like Park Chan-wook (Thirst, The Handmaiden) and we have the terrible entries like the 50 Shades of Grey films. But the directors that do it right execute the portrayal of sex with character, style and most importantly, passion. And that is where French director Francois Ozon comes in.
Famous for his witty films about the human condition, whether it’s about strength, survival or sexuality, he’s made many great films like Swimming Pool, Frantz, Young and Beautiful and many others. And now we have the 2017 psychosexual drama Double Lover. Will it succeed in being a throwback entry to the days of Swimming Pool?
The film stars Chloe (Marine Vacth), a former model who recently quit the modelling world due to her growing dissatisfaction with the modelling world. Recently, she has been having strong abdominal, ongoing pains and she thinks that they may be happening due to a psychological nature.
She decides to go on an appointment with a therapist, Dr Paul Meyer (Jeremie Renier). But little does she know, the sessions will go from awkward, intimate and eventually romantic. Not long after, they move in together and live happily until Paul’s past catches up to Chloe, taking her into a world of surrealistic sensual delights, body horror, mistaken identities and possibly clarifications of her own past.
It’s been a while since Francois Ozon ventured into psycho-sexual thriller territory of Under the Sand and Swimming Pool but after a genre detour into subtle melodrama in Frantz, Double Lover marks a return and thankfully, Ozon hasn’t lost much of a step over time. Clearly influenced by acclaimed filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, Roman Polanski, David Cronenberg and Paul Verhoeven, Double Lover is jam-packed with gloriously lurid Ozon goodness.
From the beginning of the film, you can tell where Ozon is going with his storytelling, as the film opens during a gynecological exam with an extreme closeup of something pink and wet and then you realize what it is as it zooms back, you can’t help but laugh at the audacity. And it follows on by match-cutting from this POV to that of a blinking eye turned sideways, which is similar to a shot in Lars von Trier‘s drama, Nymphomaniac. And that’s just the first five minutes!
The pacing of the film is a lot like foreplay, slowly toying with the audience as it goes through the scenes where Claire goes through her therapy sessions with Paul, which are downright funny in how blatant they are. But when we see the double of Paul (also played by Jeremie Renier, duh!), it gets enjoyably frisky, as indicated by a shot that closes in on Chloe’s mouth as she climaxes and then zooms into the female body during orgasm, like the scene in a Fast and Furious film where the camera zooms into the car engine!
And then the sex scenes gets psychologically surreal, like in a scene when Chloe fantasizes that she’s having a threesome with the brothers (or doubles), first as herself and then as a pair of Siamese twins. That would be a foursome, right? The bizarre, disorienting and prurient vibe that pervades throughout is supported by cinematographer Manu Dacosse (who’s done post-modern giallo films like Amer and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears) and Philippe Rombi‘s careering score.
In contrast to films like Frantz and In the House, Double Lover is definitely a more unruly work of Ozon’s, as he turns the film in a mischievous circus of sensual and surreal delights that the story basically becomes second nature. Yet even with that in mind, the craftmanship in display thankfully is intact and he does keep his characters on track and the actors assembled all do a great job with what they’re given.
Marine Vacth, who previously worked with Ozon on Young and Beautiful, is fantastic as Chloe, as she displays the many facets of her character like her fragility in the first act, her strength, her curiosity (finding out about Louis and sexual exploration) and definitely her duplicity (turning the tables on her oppression) very well. She’s quite reminiscent of both Stacy Martin and Charlotte Gainsbourg (both in Nymphomaniac as the same character of different ages, coincidentally) in both her youthfulness and her bravery in her acting and I can’t wait to see what she does next in the future.
As for Jeremie Renier, he’s clearly having fun in his dual roles of Paul and Louis, playing the cool, calm and collected side with ease and the Lacanian (yes, I got that term from Basic Instinct 2, sue me!), dark and aggressive side in an entertaining fashion and it only goes further when the two eventually meet in some shape or form. In what could be seen as sly, the casting of Jacqueline Bisset, the former sex symbol, has fun in her role (or roles?) while Myriam Boyer is a hoot as a neighbour who takes care of Claire’s cat (which funnily enough, is the same breed of cat that featured in Paul Verhoeven‘s 2016 film, Elle).
Double Lover is a great return to psychosexual territory that Ozon is known for and it is an entertainingly juicy time for erotica lovers, with great performances from the cast, great contributions by cinematographer Manu Dacosse and composer Philippe Rombi and very infectiously mischievous direction by Ozon. Like one of the characters in the film, strap on for a rewarding and sensuous ride.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
For more information on the Alliance Francaise Film Festival, you can click here.