Interview: Francois Ozon And Romain Duris Talk THE NEW GIRLFRIEND As "A Political Film"

Contributing Writer; London
Interview: Francois Ozon And Romain Duris Talk THE NEW GIRLFRIEND As "A Political Film"
Ahead of the UK release of The New Girlfriend, Francois Ozon and Romain Duris made the trip to London to discuss their latest film. Now bearded, Duris was clearly back on the masculine side of the spectrum, but both were keen to explore the significance of the film's gender politics and what they mean for France today.

ScreenAnarchy: You've adapted a number of books, including THE NEW GIRLFRIEND. How do you chose which ones to adapt?

Francois Ozon: I choose stories that stimulate my imagination. When they make me want to see those characters on screen. When the idea of creating it in terms of mise-en-scene excites me. But it takes a long time to know for certain. It takes time for me to know how to adapt it, because you need a new vision, your own vision on that subject and how you will tell it. Of course, it is very different to try to tell a story in writing and in film.

You describe this film as being loosely based on the original novel, so did you ever consider altering the title?

Francois: No, I like its ambiguity. In French, the "nouvelle amis" means the "new friend" or the "new lover." I don't know if that quite translates into English, but I think there is that ambiguity there too, there are the two senses.

But it's funny, the Japanese are going to release the film in Japan. And as usual, they have asked me if they can change the title. They always want to change the title. And they proposed to me - of course I refused - "He's a Lovely Parisienne." I was like, "what the fuck?" and they replied, "well, you know, for our audience, there are lots of forty-year-old women who love Paris, and they dream of it." But the film has nothing to do with Paris. You don't even see the Eiffel Tower!

What about the ambiguity of the character of David/Virginia? Do you think they are happier as Virginia or David?

Francois: I think David is quite full of sadness, and Virginia is a way for him to rediscover his wife. I think more than anything this is a story about grieving. And David and Claire have such complicity because they find a way for them to recreate Laura. They create Virginia together. That's a way for them to accept the situation and the pain caused by the loss of Laura. They're happy together as a result, it does them both good.

You also stress that David's transvestitism is not about being gay.

Francois: Yes. You know, I did lots of research about cross-dressing and met lots of people. And there really still exists this cliche to associate homosexuality and cross-dressing. That's not the reality. You realise that eighty percent of cross-dressers are straight. Indeed, many even have a wife and have children. So that was quite a surprise, because like many people before this film I thought that many cross-dressers were gay. Plus, for this story it was clear to me that David was straight. I think with David/Virginia, that much is clear.

But with Claire, she becomes totally lost because she doesn't know what she's feeling. It's a new situation, she has to ask herself, "was I in love with my best friend?" She actually realises at the end too that she's in love with Virginia not David. But what is Virginia? He's a man in female clothes.

There's equally a sense that gayness is more acceptable than transsexuality in your film. Do you think that attitude is prevalent in French culture?

Francois: I think that's the case everywhere. Now gay people are more accepted than transvestites or cross-dressers. I think transvestitism disrupts the laws and traditions and ideas of gender which people have. So that makes it more disturbing for people, but I think that will change.

Romain, you seemed very comfortable with playing this role. What was it like playing a role like this for the first time?

Romain Duris: Actually, it was a joy. Like playing when you were a child, you know? It was really fun, and I wanted to envision Virginia as having this, erm...

Francois: Innocence

Romain: Yeah, innocence. I think that was important, and Francois was brilliant at asking for that light-hearted playfulness. It wasn't calculated to play such a different role, though. It wasn't like a strategy or anything like that. I just read scripts and choose good characters, and I try to be different each time. I think that's natural, and you just follow your instinct. Plus, Francois called me for this one.

Francois:Yeah, I had read an interview where you had said one of your dreams was to play a woman. I knew that.

Romain: [Smiling]. It was a joke, Francois...

Francois: Too late!

Were you ever nervous about how you would portray this character?

Romain: No, because I trust Francois, you know? I knew that we would agree on the vision we had for the femininity of David. I was sure that Francois wouldn't ask me to do that type of drag queen which... I mean sometimes, in some scenes, we were close to being, err...

Francois: Over the top.

Romain: Yeah, but I always knew that Francois would shoot the story with profound feelings and make it something more serious.

What about that darker scene in the cinema where Virginia is harassed by a stranger?

Francois: Didn't you recognise me? You didn't? Ah, that's for the best anyway, because he looks like a pervert. But no, it's just the director of the film.

For me that scene was important to show that Virginia was happy, because she thinks, "oh, he's considering me a woman." She's not excited by the situation, it's just she's happy that a man thinks he's a woman.

Romain: For me this scene was funny, because... it was great. We shot with another actor before Francois. But Francois was better.

Francois: Because I really touched you. [Laughs].

Romain: Yes, Francois was more... and it was more awkward...

How much did you practice switching between the two roles Romain, because your mannerisms change wonderfully when you switch between David and Virginia?

Romain: It's true, I had focused a lot on acting Virginia. And I had thought that David would then just be an extension of Virginia, but in a way David was more difficult to understand and create. I think that was because David has the sadness of the death of his wife coupled with his desire to be free. So he has a lot of contradictions inside of him.

I did spend time to focus on Virginia though, to work on her physicality with a coach.

Francois: For the heels!

Romain: [Smiling]. For the high heels. That was great. That was really good exercise. That was all part of how I let Virginia grow up inside me, and then I ended up thinking about David later.

Are there any moments you're both particularly proud of?

Francois: I'm proud of nothing. Actually, the scene in the nightclub is a really important scene. It's the scene where suddenly Claire and David are not judged, and they're totally happy. That's the heart of the film, and it's very important: the emotions, the complicity between the two actors is very strong. Suddenly, they have the feeling they can lead their lives as they want and be totally free amongst people who don't judge them and like them as they are.

So it's like an idealistic moment in the film. Though actually, I think at a certain time in the gay clubs - during my time, say in the eighties - you had these kinds of mixes between different people. Gay, lesbian, black, Arab people. You had this feeling that this had become possible.

You use a Nicole Croisille song to particularly underscore this moment.

Francois: Yes! Nicole Croisille's Une Femme Avec Toi. I don't know if this song will be well known in England, but it was a very popular song in the seventies in France. And in Italy, there was an Italian version too. The lyrics just seemed really appropriate for the story and for the link between the characters.

What about your use of Katie Perry's music?

Francois: I didn't have Katie Perry in mind when I was writing the script, actually. With Katie Perry it was more a kind of guilty pleasure, you know? It was like that scene in Pretty Woman when they go shopping. It was like a cliche of going shopping. Shopping was one of David's greatest dreams too, so I needed a song that would be very entertaining. Actually, I don't know if the lyrics work so well beyond that. It's funny, it was just a guilty pleasure.

You do have lots of American influences in your film though, particularly with the setting. Could you explain why?

Francois: Yes, because America is spreading everywhere! No, I didn't want to create a typical, realistic French movie in a French suburb. I wanted to stylise the situation of the characters more, I wanted it to be like it could be set anywhere and everywhere,

Plus, in France the suburbs are very closed, so you don't see the houses. Whereas in America, there isn't this culture of fences, barriers or gates in the suburbs. There you can see everybody, and this was important for the story and themes. The neighbours needed to be able to see each other. But I also think I'm just influenced, like everybody, by American culture.

But issues of gender and sexuality seem much more prominent in French cinema. Why do you think that is?

It's a question in French society right now, about gender and sexuality. We recently had a big debate about gay rights and gay marriage, so French artists are interested in this new situation.

But it's also about devolution of society. We see people who want this, who want to escape from societal norms and familial norms. They want to create their own identities instead. So I think this issue is something that is very present in French society. In all the world, actually. We see it taking place right across the occidental world.

And what message do you want to give with your film?

Francois: Mine is a film full of hope. I wanted to build this story like a fair tale. I wanted it to have this happy ending. I know it's very much like a dream scenario, and that the reality for cross-dressers can often be much more complex and difficult. They are often judged by their family and society. But I wanted to give hope.

In a certain way The New Girlfriend is a political film, I think. In fact, I wrote the scrip at a moment in France when we had a lot of protests against gay marriage. Many people were fighting against the freedom for people to build their own families and have their own sexuality. And they were fighting against new rights for minorities, which was quite shocking.

So during the process of writing, I said to myself, I don't have to make a film against the people doing this, but I can explain that there are different options available. It doesn't have to be dramatic either, they don't have to be afraid of these new situations. I hope my film will help some people understand this much better, but I just don't know if cinema can really change the world. I hope so, though.

Screen Anarchy logo
Do you feel this content is inappropriate or infringes upon your rights? Click here to report it, or see our DMCA policy.
Francois OzonRomain DurisThe New Girlfriend

More about The New Girlfriend

Around the Internet