Screening at the 2015 Alliance Francaise French Film Festival. For festival tickets and session details visit the official website HERE.
French film connoisseurs are not unfamiliar with the sharp wit, unexpected plot twists and Hitchcockian interludes that François Ozon is all about. The French cinematic master, who weaved magic with 8 femmes, now brings to celluloid an intricate collage of friendship, sexuality and the pressures of social norms with The New Girlfriend. Does the film manage to grip its audience while retaining Ozon’s signature touch?
The New Girlfriend is a psychological drama starring Romain Duris (David) and Anais Demoustier (Claire). Claire faces an emotional upheaval when her best friend Laura (Isild Le Besco) dies, leaving behind a disconsolate husband, David, and an infant, Lucie. In her eulogy to Laura, Claire ascertains that she will look after Laura’s husband and daughter, as promised. However, an unannounced visit has Claire discover David’s darkest secret – one that Laura had known all along but kept from the world. David pleads that his secret must never be disclosed; not even to Claire’s husband, Gilles (Raphael Personnaz). What ensues is David and Claire’s struggle to understand and come to terms with their sexuality while constantly facing the burden of societal conventions.
Based on a short story and namesake by British author Ruth Rendell, Ozon has cleverly combined the tautness of the story with several warm and emotional experiences. Ozon shows remarkable ease in portraying complex relationships, while the audience is left to their better judgement.
The opening scene sees Laura getting dressed as a bride. After some brilliant camera moves, you find out that it is actually Laura’s corpse being dressed for the funeral. This revelation is morbid, but Pascal Marti’s cinematography keeps it far from being repulsive. The film has its share of funny moments as well, such as David’s unintentional feminine posture in front of his mother-in-law, the elevator scene where a child stares with confusion at Virginia (David dressed as a woman), or when an unsuspecting man in the theatre touches Virginia inappropriately.
The New Girlfriend creates a ‘join-the-dots’ situation for its audience. After Laura’s death, Claire finds solace in Virginia’s company. The seemingly innocent friendship progresses and Claire realises that she might be sexually attracted to Virginia. Claire’s sudden domination with Gilles – or her ease around Virginia – rather than David are subtle hints towards her probable sexual preference. Claire’s costumes in the film, usually dark and loose, also insinuate her masculinity. Then again, Ozon gives away nothing. It’s all left to the audience to interpret.
The film is realistic at every point. When Virginia drives away with Claire for the first time, it piques the neighbours’ curiosity as they watch the car drive by intently. Likewise, an elderly gentleman can’t help but stare when Virginia holds Claire’s hand at a restaurant. Thus, the characters’ apprehensions and fears about their sexuality are clearly justified.
Romain Duris deserves a special mention. He plays the grieving David with as much conviction as he does the liberated Virginia. When Virginia finds a friend in Claire, she musters the courage to go out and live the way she always wanted to. A more confident woman emerges with every frame. Duris is absolutely spot-on with his interpretation of both characters; you can see his fatherly side when he holds his daughter Lucie as David, and his softer, maternal side without a trace of masculinity, when he nuzzles her as Virginia.
There are a few places where the film could have worked better, such as Virginia’s introduction, which is sudden and almost funny. An important turn in the story, the moment could have used little more of Ozon’s signature Hitchcockian style to create a little more intrigue for impact. The climax of the film also a little too abrupt, a finale left to the audience’s interpretation.
Yet again, Francois Ozon has almost rendered a masterpiece. Perhaps this was highly anticipated, especially after his English film, Angel, opened to mixed reviews. Every scene and every character in The New Girlfriend is present for a reason, the layers nicely delivered. This is a sombre yet entertaining film that leaves its audience asking for more, which may be a very good thing indeed.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10