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« Harlots (S2:E1-2) New Law, Old Profession | Main | Soundtracking: "Girl Crazy" »
Wednesday
Jul252018

The Furniture: Cracked Mirrors, Double Lover

by Daniel Walber

Few things were more inevitable than a Francois Ozon film in which Jérémie Renier makes out with himself, however briefly. It’s the erotic cherry on top of a career of rule-breaking sexual escapades and pastel pastiche. Double Lover often feels like a return to some the director’s early ideas, including the effervescent camp of Sitcom and the throbbing sexual ambition of Criminal Lovers.

Yet this newest feature does at least begin with a grounded plot than these earlier films. Chloé (Marine Vacth) is a young woman with a recurring, potentially psychosomatic stomach problem. Naturally, she goes to therapist, the affable and reassuringly-sweatered Dr. Paul Meyer (Renier). Chloe sinks into one of his welcoming leather chairs, settles her feet on the fuzzy carpet, and tells him her story. The sessions go so well that, before you know it, they’ve moved in together...

But Paul has a secret! He has an evil twin, also a psychiatrist. Dr. Louis Meyer has a much less conventional methodology, at least in Chloe’s case. He’s rude and domineering, bluntly dismissive and very expensive. But she can’t resist, caught up in an increasingly perilous fascination with these estranged twins and their mysterious past.

 

As you can tell from the images above, Ozon doesn’t rely on Renier alone to drive home the differences between these two men. Production designer Sylvie Olivé, art director Lilith Bekmezian and set decorator Julien Tesseraud play a crucial role in concocting a deliciously unsubtle array of visual cues.

Paul’s office is like wrapping yourself up in one of his sweaters, a fuzzy array of browns and tans that suggest a sort of professorial ASMR sex appeal. His waiting room, meanwhile, combines a big comfy couch with a calm blue wall. A mostly intact bust of a woman sits next to a couple of orchids, pleasant accents to the small bookshelf beneath. It has the air of a rather boring home, rather than that of a doctor’s office.

Louis’s waiting room, meanwhile, feels like the corridor of a fancy hotel or even the vestibule of a neopagan temple in some sleek horror film. It has its own orchid, though this one is alone and craning to the right. There’s also the suggestion of an archaeological bust, but here it’s just a visage in bronze. The rest of the head appears to be lost to time, leaving only a solitary expression. The compound mirror above breaks Chloé’s image into many pieces, even more symbolically unmooring than the face below. She enters his chambers uneasy, already slightly detached from herself.

 

The alternating black and white marble continues into the office/apartment itself. Even the lamps suggest marble. Its stark palette and occasional inflections of sculpture give one the sense of visiting a Renaissance tomb.

This is a place of profound, violent exploration and explicit emotional warfare. Even the low-lying couch and bed share more of an architectural affinity with a sacrificial altar than any big comfy couch.

Even the mirror is cracked, a feature used pretty brilliantly by cinematographer Manuel Dacosse. Each time focus is passed back and forth between Chloé and Louis, it briefly pauses on these cracks. Their sessions, regardless of the questionable ethics on display from both of them, further lead Chloe down a road of growing tension and psychological collapse.
The surfaces around her begin to reflect her internal tumult. This goes well beyond the walls of her therapy sessions and into work as an art museum guard. These scenes are even less subtle, so here’s just a sample: the announcement posters for an entirely fictional exhibition entitled “Flesh/Blood.”
Of course, part of the reason that these sets are so bonkers is that they may or may not exist. Double Lover often has the same feverish quality as Black Swan. Its relationship with reality is tenuous, often cracking open and crossing over into fantasy. And while I won’t spoil the last act, I will say that the freedom granted by this untethered fantasia is quite the blessing to its decor.
previous installments of "The Furniture"

 

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