Erotic thrillers ought never to be timid, yet “Double Lover” features a shot, early in the film, that’s so audacious — recalling the body horror of “Dead Ringers” and the surrealist classic “Un Chien Andalou,” which features an eye being sliced open — it might inspire walkouts. In his previous films, director Francois Ozon explored the intersection of emotion and sexuality, but he has never been this brazen. Intense visuals aside, this provocative film is likely to stimulate more than conversation.
Marine Vacth, who starred in Ozon’s “Young & Beautiful,” plays a troubled woman named Chloé, whose physician recommends that she see a therapist for psychosomatic stomachaches. Paul (Jérémie Renier) is an attentive listener, but his strictly therapeutic relationship with his new patient ends after they develop a mutual attraction.
Something strange happens shortly after they move in together, during her bus ride home: Chloé sees Paul with another woman. He insists it wasn’t him, and Chloé must have seen a double. In this case, he means it literally: Paul has a twin brother, Louis, who is also a therapist. Chloé starts visiting Louis in secret, and she cannot reconcile how identical twins can be so different.
“Double Lover” follows Chloé as she attempts to uncover the nature of a fissure between Paul and Louis. The script, adapted from a Joyce Carol Oates novel and co-written by Ozon and Philippe Piazzo, teases out the details of their estrangement slowly, preferring instead to interrogate Chloé’s sexual impulses (which she begins to explore with Louis, who is demanding and aggressive, where Paul is dependable and safe). Renier’s dual performance is fascinating: It is always clear which twin we are seeing, even when they appear together in Chloé’s fantasies. She pursues both men because each lover, separately, is incomplete. Vacth’s relatively passive performance suggests how desire can lead to crippling self-doubt.
Nothing about this film feels remotely safe. Unlike the “Fifty Shades” series, “Double Lover” has little interest in romance, instead considering the psychological impulses that inform it. In addition to the opening shot, Ozon includes nightmare sequences that are presented with a clinical, deadpan curiosity. “Double Lover” introduces an unlikely triangle, while avoiding a contrived, too-elegant solution. There’s no realism here, yet the film finds, through edgy exaggeration, a deeper, more penetrating truth.
Unrated. At the Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market. Contains violence, strong language, nudity, sexual situations and disturbing images. In French with subtitles. 107 minutes.