Chloé (Marine Vacth) visits her gynaecologist with the same problem she has suffered for a few years now, that pain in her stomach doctors can find no explanation for. Once again, no problems are found, but the pain persists, therefore it is suggested that she attend meetings with a psychiatrist. This she does, arranging a session with Paul (Jérémie Renier), and without him needing to say very much, she pours her heart out to him, telling of how she used to be a model, wanted to be an actress, but is now unemployed since she doesn't have any people skills. The problem with her stomach may not go away, but she feels better for having unburdened herself - maybe too good?
If you are watching L'Amant Double and start thinking, hmm, this seems familiar, that's because you have seen David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, for rather than being a remake, this was a loose adaptation of the same case that was drawn from, here credited to writer Joyce Carol Oates, of whom director François Ozon is a big fan. The theme was the duality of the soul, or the personality at any rate, as seen through the tale of twins, twin psychiatrists in this case as Renier got to play a dual role as both the nice twin and the evil twin, for this was the kind of movie where you couldn't have one without the other, and poor Chloé is caught up in the middle of their warring characters.
But Ozon was going to be a lot tricksier, so much so that you could be forgiven for reaching the end of this and wonder what on earth you had just watched. The trigger were the psychiatric therapy sessions for what amounted to one of those erotic thrillers that became popular in the nineteen-nineties and have been occasionally returned to since, even after the straight to video market gobbled up the audience back in their heyday. But Ozon wasn't prepared to play that game with anything like sincerity, gleefully pulling the rug out from under the audience so often that it became a deadpan variety of joke, though one the director appeared to be enjoying far more than anyone else.
Still, if you got the idea that this was in essence one big put-on, continually pulling the wool over the eyes of the viewer, then you would start to appreciate L'Amant Double as it crept ever-closer to horror territory. The trouble with that was that in this arrangement you could never be sure of what you were seeing and how authentic it was; now, that was part of the gamesplaying and fun that Ozon was indulging himself with, but if you preferred a straight answer to a straight question, then you would not be a happy bunny experiencing this. To confound the viewer further, this was no Paul Verhoeven romp where it was clear there was a sense of humour at work here, as the tone was relentlessly sombre, so that when the more outrageous elements cropped up it was difficult to know how to take them.
What happens is (or what appears to happen is) Chloé and Paul fall in love, and as this is deeply unprofessional he ends their sessions but decides to shack up with her in the swanky apartment she shares with her pet cat (lots of feline imagery here). All goes well until she decides she still wants to see a shrink, and the one she chooses turns out to be Paul's twin Louis, who is the evil version she finds irresistible for some reason, possibly because he is more dangerous in bed. Therefore she is cheating on her boyfriend with his exact physical double (the effects work went beyond what Cronenberg had managed back in the eighties), and fantasises about having sex with both at once, the first hint that we were being told this yarn by an unreliable narrator. There followed bits of business of female shame of their own sexual desires, a scene where Chloé buggers Louis with a strap-on, Jacqueline Bisset in her own dual role, and so on, disorientating as you like, but despite the solemn mood, kind of amusing in its absurdity. Music by Philippe Rombi.
[There are interviews on the Curzon Blu-ray as extras.]