There’s something gleefully perverse about opening Francois Ozon’s “Double Lover” on Valentine’s Day. I can just imagine some longtime married couple or a first date out for a romantic evening and wandering into a theater Ozon’s kinky erotic thriller, which starts off nutty and just keeps getting wilder and weirder.
One of the very first images in the movie is an extreme close-up of a certain body part, which dissolves into the image of an eye, and Ozon just keeps pushing things further and further from there. This movie makes “Fifty Shades Freed” look like “The Notebook.” And not even the theatrical version of “The Notebook,” but the heavily edited version they play on TBS at 11 in the morning on weekends.
Marina Vacth plays Chloe, a young French woman who goes to see a therapist for stomach pains that her physician believes are psychosomatic. The therapist is Paul (Jeremie Renier), a handsome and kindly man who listens patiently as Chloe pours out her problems. Perhaps inevitably, they fall for each other, and Chloe moves in with Paul.
It all seems a little too perfect, even for Chloe. Then she finds a passport bearing Paul’s face — but a different name. Another day, looking out of a bus window, she catches a glimpse of Paul on the street talking to a woman. But it turns out that there is no physical way Paul could have been in that part of Paris.
It turns out Paul has an estranged twin brother, Louis (also Renier), who is also a therapist. But where Paul is warm and cuddly, Louis is cold and manipulating. In one of the many brilliant bits of production design in the film, Louis’ office mimicks Paul’s, except that Paul’s warm browns and yellows are replaced by harsh greys and blacks.
Soon, Chloe is bedding both twin brothers (in one delirious CGI-enhanced dream sequence, at the same time) while trying to figure out the secret of what drove the two brothers apart. Ozon constantly plays games with the audience, keeping us guessing as to what’s real and what’s not, and just how far he’s willing to take things. As it turns out, pretty far.
The prolific Ozon makes all sorts of movies, but “Double Lover” is very much in the vein of his 2002 arthouse hit “Swimming Pool,” mixing boundary-pushing sex scenes with wait-did-that-really-happen plot turns, and giving it all a stylish sheen.
The whole thing is the sort of enjoyable high-class trash that only the French seem to be able to get away with. And, love it or hate it, it will make for quite the memorable date night.