Kinky ‘Double Lover’ delivers an impactful one-two punch

February 14, 2018

Dark, kinky and twisty with a modernist sheen, “Double Lover” delivers a delightfully messed up cavalcade of erotic hijinks. It offers everything the “Fifty Shades” trilogy promised but never delivered, with an added layer of deliberately paced anxiety.

This depraved delicacy comes from François Ozon (“Swimming Pool”), the enfant terrible of French cinema. Adapted from a Joyce Carol Oates short story, it is a psychological thriller of masterful suspense. A slow-burning sense of unease simmers with sexual heat from the opening frames. It is certainly not for the easily offended, but if this is your jam, Ozon’s gratuitous guilty pleasure makes for a pretty wild watch.

Playing the protagonist Chloé is Marine Vacth. Chloé is a somber, 25-year-old Parisian ex-model with the kind of icy beauty most accurately called piercing. She is a mystery from the start. When she schedules a meeting with psychologist Dr. Paul Meyer (Jérémie Renier), one cannot imagine why such a radiant young woman would be unhappy. Beyond long-running stomach pains that could be nothing more than psychological discomfort, she seems to be in easily fixable condition.

Paul, besotted, breaks from the usual doctor-client protocol, taking her as his girlfriend. They move into a stylish high-rise, where he quietly, gently treats her feelings of loving to be looked at but hating to be touched.

But of course, there is trouble in paradise. Returning from work, Chloé sees on the street — or thinks she sees — Paul in a romantic moment with another woman. Her detective work reveals a family history more painful and complex than Paul has revealed. Feeling misled, Chloé begins sessions with a new psychologist, who turns out to be Paul’s estranged twin brother, Louis (also Renier). Almost immediately she is in a rampaging sexual affair with Louis, a vain womanizer who holds Paul in contempt and pushes her across dangerous boundaries of consensual and nonconsensual intercourse.

As she moves up those handsomely shot spiral staircases that are climbed in films about beautiful people in suspense, Chloé finds another sinister scandal. She learns the story of a girl who may have been physically harmed beyond repair by both the psychologists controlling different aspects of her life.

Ozon’s split-screen techniques and dream sequences add to the surrealism. Are these visual tricks mirroring high-strung Chloé’s mental instability? Or are they casting doubt on the justification of her paranoia?

Ozon tenaciously tightens the screws and always keeps us unaware when he is going to make a shift from the real world to Chloé’s delusions. He trusts us to assemble the puzzle ourselves. There is no “Psycho”-style pseudoscientific info dump near the end because Ozon wants his art to elicit emotion, not spoon-feed us facts. “Double Lover” is a nasty, unsettling and uncomfortable piece of work, and very effective at that.