François Ozon’s new thriller Double Lover is a tongue-in-cheek valentine to nihilistic love affairs. Based on Joyce Carol Oates' novel Lives of the Twins, it begins where mysteries seldom do — at a beauty salon.
The film opens as a hairdresser cuts Chloé’s (Marine Vacth) fringe of long, dark hair shorter. The camera moves in close to her wet bangs and follows the horizontal path the scissors are taking. Chloé says nothing throughout; her expression stays hidden. This haircut doesn’t suggest a trace of self-indulgent pampering. It’s an aggressive action on her part to change her identity by trimming off the past.
Ozon previously worked with Vacth in his 2013 coming-of-age drama Young & Beautiful. In it, she played Isabelle, a teenager who rebels against her bourgeois parents by becoming an after-school call girl to much older men. But the movie’s message was muddled.
Ozon must have found inspiration for the character in Catherine Deneuve’s performance in Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour (1967). But Deneuve was as accomplished 24-year-old actress; she could communicate a need to experiment with her sexuality. In Young & Beautiful, Vacth too young and passive to stand up to the camera, and Ozon didn’t provide her with any reason, sound or otherwise, to account for her character's behavior.
Young & Beautiful revealed Ozon’s biggest weakness as a filmmaker and scenarist — his penchant for style over substance. Casting a matured Vacth, this time as a disappointed former model, the French director overcompensates in Double Lover for their previous, more laconic collaboration. Here he provides her with a wide variety of psychological motivations that could fill two to three different movies: absent father, troubled mother, lack of intimate relationships, no professional direction. After that intense haircut in the film’s opening scene, Chloé walks straight into a psychiatrist’s office and tells him about her sense of isolation and fragility after a recent breakdown.