English Title: The New Girlfriend
Original Title: Une nouvelle amie
Director/Writer: François Ozon
based on the novel of Ruth Rendell
Music: Philippe Rombi
Cinematography: Pascal Marti
Isild Le Besco
Ozon’s latest picture is a queer and lurid modern tale on human’s sexuality, a consistent motif of his canon, and this time, he goes even further, transmutes the recently-departed Ruth Rendell’s 1985 short story THE NEW GIRLFRIEND into a glossy drama-comedy, exploring the avant-garde conception of two people’s realization of their own sexual individuality, which leaps beyond the usual straight/gay/bisexual boundary.
The link between David (Duris) and Claire (Demoustier) is Laura (Le Besco), she is David’s wife and Claire’s bestie since childhood, after giving birth to a baby girl Lucie, Laura passes away, which leaves both devastating, the film starts with Laura’s funeral, she is buried in her wedding dress, then within five minutes, the narrative flips bracingly through Laura and Claire’s growth trajectory until the present, when Claire speaks in her best friend’s funeral ceremony and declares that she will adhere to her vow, to take care Lucie and David. By an incident, Laura surprisingly discovers that David is a cross-dresser, after the initial shock, Claire seems to find a new way to deal with Laura’s death when David’s female identity Virginia, sports Laura’s dress and perfume, becomes a new replacement and wakes up her latent lesbianism which will damage her marriage with the unwitting Gilles (Personnaz).
Ostensibly the film is developing according to a familiar pattern, as we witness David experience a full-blooming of his transvestite identity alongside Claire’s assistance, which peaks in the heartfelt rendition of UNE FEMME AVEC TOI by a trans-singer in a night club. Duris delivers a brilliant turn in this gender confusion role, the incompatibility of his bony figure and very masculine face as a woman creates a ludicrous laughing point, it is always an award-worthy platform for actors acting-in-drag, Duris might not look as ravishing as Melvil Poupaud in LAURENCE ANYWAYS (2012), but he deftly galvanizes warmth and fondness in the dual David/Virginia.
In fact, the film’s mainstay is always on Claire, whose affection towards Laura can be spotted from earlier with yearning gaze, when she realizes Laura is attracted to me, she represses her feelings and chooses a conventional marriage following Laura’s steps. Only when she and Virginia take a getaway in Laura’s childhood house, the long-dormant impulsion is resuscitated, here Ozon cunningly deploys a trickery in Claire’s dream sequence to show viewers that Laura is the one she desires, not David, no matter how Virginia is appealing to her, in the end, David’s male sex organ is the real deal-breaker. Demoustier plays Claire’s gradual awakening inconspicuously, like her character, Claire is not a prima donna, an attention-grabber, she is pretty but more inward-looking. Demoustier’s effort cannot be overlooked even though Duris’ role is far meatier.
Now to the downside, during the latter half, it seems that Ozon becomes slack when the shopworn car-accident is wantonly introduced to literally provide David a second chance to wake up in her new identity when all the lies and fronts are debunked, more cringe-worthy is she can only wake up after Claire dresses her up as Virginia and sings her UNE FEMME AVEC MOI. Also, Ozon’s morbid emphasis on dressing dead body is too over under the context, there is no need to go that far. Finally the open ending, it is frustrating to leave the agreeable Gilles out of the picture without any indication since he is the most innocent one among them, he deserves a better treatment after all.