The New Girlfriend


The Psycho sexuality behind transvestitism has been haunting films since jaye Davison’s surprise turn in “The Crying Game” and would seem to be played out; yet Francois Ozun has found a novel way to address it in his genre bending “The New Girlfriend.”
Uneven but consistently amusing, François Ozon’s “The New Girlfriend” is a sort of guilty pleasure. In a way, Ozon’s bitten off more than he can chew, balancing a creepy neo-Patricia Highsmith ambiance, a cross dressing comedy, and a series of charged sexual double crossed fantasies. Ozun homages Otto Preminger’s “Laura”, Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” in several plot arcs.  Philippe Rombi’s score adds suspense and enforces the melodramatic tricks.
Not as serious as “Lawrence Always” Ozun maintains his skittish blend of wit and drama, here spiced up with some sunny pop music scored shopping montages. Less voyeuristic than his usual films (think of his recent “In the House”), Ozun’s eccentric gender romcom is his most accessible film, and non-judgmental Ozun is kind to his characters.
Based on a story by Brit crime writer Ruth Rendell, whose source material was often adapted by other directors, notably Claude Miller’s “Alias Betty”,  Claude Chabrol’s “La cérémonie” and “The Bridemaid” and  Pedro Almodovar’s “Live Flesh” (based on the same short story as “The New Girlfriend”.)
Knowing that, I expected a perverse thriller. Ozun’s done something different, wrapped romcom complications around a drama about gender identity. 
An opening sequence is a thrill; in extreme close-up a beautiful bride (Isild Le Besco) is lovingly dressed and groomed. It takes us a moment to realize she’s a dead girl in a white coffin.
(Isild Le Besco starred in Benoît Jacquot’s 2004 Novelle Vague-ish thriller “À tout de suite”, one of my favorite films of that year.) 
At the funeral for young Laura (Isild Le Besco), her childhood friend, Claire (Anaïs Demoustier-“Bird People”) promise to watch over Laura’s husband David and infant daughter Lucie, then recalls their golden childhood. A flashback details the pair’s giddy childhood and doting sensual young adulthood.
A Coup de foudre or love at first sight joins lonely 7-year-old Claire (Anna Monedière) and prettier Laura (Mayline Dubois), who towers over her friend even as they grow up. Ozun mirrors their body language later in the film, as new girlfriend ‘Virginia” towers over galpal Claire. 
The passionate girlhood friendship of Claire and Laura never lessons as they grow apace, best friends, double dating buddies, each other’s maids of honor at their respective weddings. 
Piquant, freckled-face, repressed Claire loves Laura. Watch her face as she registers grown Laura’s attraction to David. Pushing her unrequited love under, she follows Laura to the altar, marrying the handsome Gilles (Raphaël Personnaz’ “The French Minister”, ‘Marius”, “Anna Karenina”).
Claire played godmother to Laura and David’s baby daughter Lucie. No one expected Laura to dies so young.
Bed-ridden from depression, Claire won’t leave the house. Concerned, Gilles sends her to visit David and baby Lucy. Their handsome house looks as American as the films Ozun homages. Pushing open the door, Claire discovers a blond giving baby Lucie a bottle. It’s David, dressed in Laura’s clothes and perfume, he’s playing father and mother behind closed doors.
David, who claims he stopped cross-dressing once married, shared his secret with Laura.  We wonder about the nature of his marriage to Laura, the secrets they shared. Was Laura also attracted to his transvestite self?
Claire is shocked and titillated; sharing his secret spurs their intimacy. She agrees to take him shopping, as Virginia, the name she gives him.Helping Virginia craft her street persona opens up Claire’s girlish self. Soon she’s dressing up and as giddy as she once was with Laura. Whenever  Gilles asks, she tells him she’s out with Virginia, never betraying their shared secret. 
Laura’s death leaves a void for Claire, and Virginia fills it. Will sex ruin their ‘girlish’ friendship?
The mixed genre project overcomes some serious flaws due to subtle performances from it’s leads.
With his four o’clock shadow, Duris seems an unlikely a drag buthe masters every step between manly and feminine, rarely settling for camp. Though buckteeth make him a “jolie-laid”, he’s graceful and believable as the liberated Viginia, Claire’s newest girlfriend. They spend giddy afternoons together shopping and dressing up, culminating in a confusing weekend at Laura’s family estate. Talented Demoustier subtly dials up her character from repressed and tentative to a more liberated bi-sexual.
The always wonderful Duris outdoes himself liming the duel characters of David and Virginia, even the broad jokes are delivered with finesse. Witness him sitting and chatting with his mother-in-law, his wrist flutters upwards and he catches it and adjusts his clothes, disappearing into his David persona.
Throughout the film, relatively clueless Claire (dressed by Pascaline Chavanne in handsome masculine cuts that contrast Virginia’s 70’s inspired glamlooks) slowly transforms herself. With subtle nuancing she pages through unrequited love, jealousy, new love, new jealousy and finally self-realization.
Claire’s sexual confusion and guilt plays out in her male same sex fantasies.
Personnaz is also gifted; his arc moves from quiet supportive husband to, as Claire spends more time away playing with Virginia, a parental figure in young Lucie’s life (another sly genderish switch). 
David’s a man who loves women, and makes love to them. As Virginia, he’s titillated when a strange man fondles his leg in a darkened movie theatre (someone has taken him for a woman), but otherwise he’s a one woman man (no pun intended.) 
Claire becomes his latest crush; she’s excited to make love with Virginia, except for one thing.
Surprisingly the death of their exquisite shared love object Laura liberates David’s inner self and unleashes Claire’s long repressed lesbian desires. They help and stymie each other through Ozun’s ambiguous hazard course, coming to a head in a scene at a Drag bar, watching drag queen Eva Carlton (Bruno Pérard) steamily lip -synchs to Nicole Croisille’s torchsong “Une Femme Avec Toi.” 
A crazy melodramatic device triggers the final act, but Ozon somehow pays it off, as Claire reprises ‘their song’, Une Femme Avec Toi, in David’s hospital room.
Gifted leading man Romain Duris frequently works with Cédric Klapisch:  “Le péril jeune”, “When the Cat’s Away”, “Peut-être”,”Paris” and their trilogy “L’Auberge Espagnole”, “Russian Dolls”, “Chinese Puzzle”. Duris shot three films with Algerian Gypsy filmmaker Tony Gatlif-“Gadjo Dilo”, “Je suis né d’une cigogne”, and “Exils”. The versatile actor has won many awards for dramatic roles (“The Beat That My Heart Skipped”, Laurent Tirard’s “Moliere”). His first award was the 2000 Lumiere Award (Most Promising Young Actor) for Klapisch’s “Peut-être”. Duris was recently was seen in the U.S. theatrical run of the wonderfully dotty romantic comedy “Populaire” (2012).
Watch for Ozun’s Hitchcockian cameo. All you’ll see is a hand. He plays the man in the cinema and bills himself in the credits as François Godard.
As usual for Ozun, production values delight. DP Pascal Marti burnishes the flashbacks in warm Indian Summer hues. The coffin sight gag is as sharp and exquisite as Aldomovar in his prime. Shots in the swanky suburb recall American melodramas like Sirk’s “All That Heaven Allows” or Rock Hudson/ Doris Day comedies, even “Desperate Housewives.”
Ozun’s latest won the Prix Jacques Prévert du Scénario for Best Adaptation (François Ozon), The San Sebastián Film Festival Sebastiane Award 2014 (for the film that best reflects the values and reality of LGBT people) and was nominated for Best Actor (Romain Duris) and Best Costume Design (Pascaline Chavanne) at the 40th César Awards and Best Actor (Romain Duris) at the 20th Lumières Awards.  FUN
Opens in Los Angeles on September 18th at The Landmark Theatre.


About Author

Robin Menken

Robin Menken Robin Menken lives in Los Angeles. She was the Artistic Director of the Second City Workshops, taught at UC Berkeley, USC, Barcelona\'s Ateneu and the Esalin Institute. She was Roberto Rossellini\'s assistant, and worked with Yevgeny Vevteshenku, Glauber Rocha and Eugene Ionesco. She sold numerous screenplays and wrote the OBIE winning The FTA SHow (touring with Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and Ben Vereen.) She was a programming consultant and Special Events co-ordinator for numerous film festivals, including the SF, Rio, Havana and N.Y Film Festivals. Her first news outlet was the historic East Village Other.

Leave A Reply