Francois Ozon has been one of the hottest French directors of the past couple of years. After the acclaimed Swimming Pool, In The House and Young & Beautiful, The New Girlfriend is the first one of his I've been able to see and he lives up to the hype. Although it's a quaint story, it has moments of bold ambition that truly pay off, with scenes that are quite reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's tendency to dig into the past cinematically. It opens with an enthralling backstory montage to rival Up's Married Life, though with a short Katy Perry flavored interlude. It teeters on trite, but with a whole heap of charm, rich photography, an irresistible score and strong conviction from the actors, it's utterly bewitching and wins you over from then on for the experience. When Claire's (Anais Demoustier) best friend Laura (Isild Le Besco) dies at an unfortunate young age, she finds herself having to live up to her promise of looking over her widower, David (Romain Duris), and their six month old baby. However, after procrastinating out of pain for her loss and finally pushing herself to keep David company, she uncovers a shocking secret. It's the first of the film's turns and its primary topic of discussion. It's revealed that David is a frequent transvestite, a double life unlocked by his wife's death, and he dresses in her clothing to comfort his baby. He adopts the role of father and mother simultaneously, but also takes the place of Laura in Claire's life. At first repulsed, Claire eventually helps him on his journey of self-discovery as he takes his first steps outside in a dress. It's a fascinating study of gender identification and queer stigma, examining the insecurities about gender roles, projection and sexuality. Although David dresses and eventually identifies as a woman (aka 'Virginia'), he is not homosexual at all besides moments of fleeting mild temptation, and the film approaches that concept as something that people struggle to disassociate with. It's a film that feels textbook ready to contribute to queer theory with the way it explores all the possible angles. Sometimes it is a crux of the film that it appears to try too hard to cover all this ground regarding analysing sexuality rather than adding to the story, and those scenes don't land as organically as the arc of the main plot. Perhaps it's the liberalness of French cinema that leads the characters down that sexually experimental and fantastical path, but it feels out of tune. I've only seen Romain Duris in last year's Mood Indigo and 2005's The Beat That The Heart Skipped and he's stunned me each time. He's topped himself here. He's utterly immersed in his dual roles as David and Virginia with idiosyncratic nuances that feel flawlessly measured and deeply human. The film is told through the eyes of Anais Demoustier's Claire, who although is relatively a passive protagonist compared to David's arc, the way she subtly addresses her dilemmas, curiosities and last minute choices is a joy to watch. It's a very generous performance, and one that fortunately reflects back on her and it's easy to invest in both of them. With tragedy and comedy in equal measure, the film is exquisite entertainment outside of its academia ripe representations. The performances deliver laughs and emotion in an authentic way within the film's lively style. It's slickly made, with lush cinematography and swift editing making its dynamics feel incredibly kinetic which compliment the economic, poignant and liberating screenplay. Despite reservations with where the plot meanders and dips outside of its more interesting boundaries, The New Girlfriend is a confident, thought-provoking and extravagant piece of art. I will certainly be on the lookout for more Ozon in the future and dig into his back catalogue. 8/10
The New Girlfriend
The New Girlfriend
A young woman makes a surprising discovery about the husband of her late best friend.
November 12, 2020