The New Girlfriend
François Ozon has made a name for himself in the film world with his intelligence, wit and his rather unique way of exploring the murky waters of gender and sexuality; his latest escapade, The New Girlfriend, is no exception.
The film opens with the death of Claire’s (Anaïs Demoustier) best friend, Laura, who leaves her husband, David (Romain Duris) and their young daughter behind. After a few weeks of mourning, Claire decides to drop by the pair and stumbles upon David’s dark secret: he’s a cross-dresser, and what’s more, he’s wearing his dead wife’s clothes. Initially, Claire is shocked, repulsed, even, but gradually she comes to accept David’s alter-ego, Virginia. It seems innocent enough at first, for Claire it’s a chance to move on from Laura, for David/Virginia it’s a chance to explore their femininity openly but as their bond grows deeper things get a little more complicated and tensions start to flare.
Though based on the short story of the same name by crime author Ruth Rendell, Ozon’s take on the tale is a lot more light-hearted. Ozon’s tale is one of messy love, intelligent, biting and oddly touching. The central relationship between David and Claire is fascinating to watch unfold on screen, so complex and layered. And true to its origins there is a fairly unsettling aura about the film – driven mostly by the haunting score – there is the suggestion of darker overtones here and there and one cannot help but feel that all is not as it seems.
The acting is first rate: Romain Duris plays David/Virginia in such a way that it is almost impossible not to empathise with his inner struggles, and though there are a few hints of something vaguely Norman Bates-esque about him – or perhaps, those are only things Claire feels – he is at no point a ridiculed character. Anaïs Demoustier gives an equally impressive performance as the conflicted Claire, navigating her own sexual crisis and trying desperately to move on from Laura’s death.
Perhaps the only gripe to be had here is that, at times, the tale strays far too deeply into fanciful territory to be taken truly seriously and fans of the short story may be disappointed in the direction Ozon has decided to take the story.
While it may not live up to its bloodier roots, The New Girlfriend is certainly a unique piece of cinema and one of the most thorough explorations of gender and sexuality to be found.
The New Girlfriend is released nationwide on 22nd May 2015.
Watch the trailer for The New Girlfriend here: