French Film Festival 2015: THE NEW GIRLFRIEND Is A Definitive Ozon Joint
Billing itself as a psychological drama, the film follows married woman Claire (the extremely talented Anais Demoustier) who has lost her lifelong friend too early. A chance encounter one day reveals something shocking about her friend's widower, and Claire's passion for life and her refusal to accept her friend's death are driven to unpredictable obsession.
It is quickly revealed that aforementioned widower David (Romain Duris) is a cross-dresser. When Claire sees him in her dead friend's clothes she initially dismisses him as deranged and sick. Days pass and the temptation of having her friend in no matter the context eats away at her, as her supporting husband is clueless to what is happening.
It is not long before they meet, each encounter more comfortable and intimate than the last. They both undertake a journey that is fraught with risk, thrill and seduction, bordering on an affair. Their relationship and gender politics become blurred and as the situation begins to spiral out of control, David's confidence and acceptance into the world as a woman only grows stronger. It is a sort of contradiction that Ozon employs masterfully.
The film opens with another wonderful contradiction; the church organ plays a dour version of here comes the bride as the camera plans to the beautiful woman in her wedding dress. Unfortunately it also reveals the coffin in which she lays. The film is peppered with moments like this, Ozon, in his own comedic style is transfixed on unbuttoning the civility and expectations of upper middle-class life, often resulting in some humorous but also powerful moments that undermine the expectations of class and society.
Like Young & Beautiful, Ozon has a firm grasp on depicting youth. After this funeral scene Claire explains her relationship with her friend and an incredible series of flashbacks brim with energy and passion; within minutes Ozon has created their intense friendship and set the scene.
The New Girlfriend does not reinvent the wheel for gender identity, it simply depicts a rather obscure relationship founded on lies and delusion. Like any illicit scenario they both try to convince themselves in the innocence of it all. The film does focus on David's growth however, from coming-out in public to finding the acceptance within, Romain Duris is not only unrecognizable in this role, and he is also extremely passionate about David's predicament. In The New Girlfriend Claire balances obsession and predilection; seeking to understand David but also hating him for replacing her lost friend. It is a complex tightrope that the fascinating actress walks with aplomb.
A few surprises and revealed truths along the way play like typical melodrama, and the final few moments recall the hotel scenes in Young & Beautiful. Ozon is using this transient place as a metaphor for change and realization. It is also telling that Anais Demoustier was also the hotel staff in the sublime film the Bird People, so that actress's connection with hotels heightens proceedings, and while she has appeared at some capacity in nearly forty French films, Anais is definitely one to watch as she will undoubtedly receive more leading roles.
While there are some heavy themes throughout, Ozon has ensured that The New Girlfriend is a comedy melodrama. It is serious, but also heightened and aware of itself, working directly as a strength as this excellent work from the auteur is a completely unpretentious and provocative tale that does not overstay its welcome.
This film is playing as part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival in Australia from the 3rd March to the 21st April Australia-wide. Please see the website for more information.