Double Lover (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★
Although its resolution is somewhat pedestrian for my taste, especially considering that it is directed by François Ozon, a filmmaker who makes intelligent and daring choices, “Double Lover,” adapted from the novel “Lives of the Twins” by Joyce Carol Oates, grips the viewer by the throat with a mystery so potent, it is required that we feel that every scene is tantamount to taking one step closer toward an answer we may or may not be ready for. I watched the picture with great interest and was impressed that even though it is a dramatic work first and foremost, it commands strong tension commonly found in memorable thrillers.
The plot is as ordinary as it is sinister: a client falls in love with her psychoanalyst. Most of us have come across this template before. It is curious, sort of taboo, and a solid stepping stone toward a more interesting avenue. After Chloé (Marine Vacth) and Paul (Jérémie Renier) move in together, the former, who has a history of crippling stomach pains especially when her life gets stressful, comes across her beau’s look-alike (also played by Renier). The men look so similar that she becomes convinced that they must be twins. However, Paul insists he does not have a brother, let alone a twin. Chloé, following her nagging intuition, decides to investigate by contacting the double.
Here is a film that requires carefully calibrated performances. Vacth and Renier—each—must deliver at least two convincing performances—but in different ways. Renier’s is the more obvious task because he plays two characters who look the same but everything else about them are different—almost polar opposites. Vacth, arguably, has the more difficult role depending on which man she is facing. In addition, we follow how she is when she is with strangers and when alone in a room where she must confront her thoughts and longings.
Despite the plot machinations and acrobatics, I believe this is a story of a woman whose deepest desire is to be seen. Pay close attention to the incredibly intimate opening scenes—the first taking place in a clinic where one’s body is completely exposed and the second in an office in which deeply personal information must be divulged to a complete stranger. We learn of the protagonist’s body, mind, and soul through the scope of a standard dramatic parabola. And yet—except for the ending—there is nearly nothing standard about its approach to telling its story.
I admire Ozon’s work, including this one, because he is not afraid to use the camera as more than a camera. Take the opening shot, for instance, as he employs the camera like a microscope. He is not ashamed to show a woman’s sex because the intention is not to provide sleazy titillation or to shock the viewer. Instead, the matter-of-fact manner of showing a body part, which just so happens to be a sexual organ, ties into the bigger, more elegant themes of the material. Here is a film for the most mature audiences, those who enjoy digging throughly into novels and studying every connection and symbolism. (Pay attention on how the film shows and uses glass and mirrors.)
This is not to suggest that “L’amant double” is inaccessible or opaque. It simply requires an open mind in order to become hypnotized by its wonderful control of tone, foreboding atmosphere, and pacing so assured—at times melodramatic—that clocking in at less than two hours is almost miraculous considering the thicker details of its central mystery.