You might think that a movie that opens with a close-up of a cervical exam (that dissolves into a shot of the heroine’s eye, filmed sideways) has nowhere left to go, but in “Double Lover,” French filmmaker François Ozon (“Swimming Pool,” “8 Women”) is just getting started.
While the film’s obsession with twins (and occasional moments of body horror) might call to mind David Cronenberg’s darkly brilliant “Dead Ringers,” this new film focuses less on a pair of twin psychiatrists (both played by Jérémie Renier) and more on the patient-turned-lover (Marine Vacth) whose obsession with them mounts to dangerous levels.
This is the sort of thriller that constantly sideswipes you with dream sequences and hallucinations, but if you’re willing to go on Ozon’s ride, it’s an unpredictable journey.
Loosely adapting Joyce Carol Oates’ “Lives of the Twins,” Ozon (and collaborator Philippe Piazzo) have crafted the unsettling tale of Chloé (Vacth), a former model who is sent to a psychiatrist when there appears to be no physical explanation for her stomach pains. She sees Paul Meyer (Renier) and pours out the story of her difficult relationship with her mother, her need to be seen and appreciated.
Paul says very little in these sessions, but when Chloé says she is feeling better, he violates any number of medical ethics by telling her he loves her. The two move in together — she brings along a cat that Paul doesn’t particularly like — but she feels that he is keeping secrets, particularly when she finds an old passport with a different last name.
Soon, she thinks she sees him with another woman, but it turns out to have been another psychiatrist, Louis Delord (Renier), who claims to be Paul’s twin, even though Paul never mentions having had a brother.
The further involved she gets with Louis — and the more she tries to get Paul to open up about his past — the more Chloé seems to spiral into madness. But is she being violently played by two diabolical brothers, or is she trapping herself in a web of her own making? Ozon brilliantly zigs and zags, keeping us uncertain about what we’re seeing, what Chloé does and doesn’t know about the men in her life, and where this mania will lead.
Before the introduction of Louis, “Double Lover” is already playing with the idea of doubling and overlapping, whether it’s in the subtle split-screen of Chloé’s sessions with Paul — sometimes we see each of their faces as she speaks, other times we get two different angles on her face — or with the multiple mirrors that seem to appear almost everywhere Chloé goes. (It’s no spoiler to say that there’s a climactic shout-out to the famous finale of “The Lady from Shanghai.”)
With its blend of the stylish and the psychological, “Double Lover” falls squarely in Ozon’s wheelhouse, with actors who know how to convey his brand of chilly ambiguity. (Vacth starred in “Young & Beautiful,” Renier in “Potiche.”) There’s a chic frigidity to most of the sets, with the notable exception of the mumsy apartment of Chloé’s cat-lady neighbor, and that glacial crispness bleeds into the sound design as well.
Chloé eventually gets a job as a gallery monitor in an arts space featuring beautiful and horrifying close-ups of surgeries, which turn out to be a perfect metaphor for “Double Lover,” a film that’s occasionally grotesque but always precise.