The New Girlfriend

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The New Girlfriend
"Sexuality, Francois Ozon's latest film declares, can be as complex as desiring another person can be simple."

Sexuality, Francois Ozon's latest film declares, can be as complex as desiring another person can be simple. Adapted from the bones of a Ruth Rendell short story, Ozon plays freely with stereotypes to suggest that the male/female dichotomy is, in fact, a continuum on which people need not necessarily occupy a fixed position. His exploration, in keeping with so many of his films, is marked out by a warmth of humour and sensitivity that takes what could be farcical - and occasionally sinsiter - and makes it matter in emotional terms.

He begins with a gracefully abbreviated sequence that introduces us to childhood friends Laura (played in adulthood by Isild Le Besco) and Claire (Anna Demoustier), quickly cataloguing their blood-pledge friendship through to their weddings and childbirth. The game-changer comes when we suddenly realise that Laura is being clothed in her wedding gown not for the big day but for her funeral. The conflict of familiar marriage music with the sight of her pristine corpse, sets the tone for a film in which the emotions of the characters are frequently torn in two directions.

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Following Laura's funeral, Claire - though wracked by grief, which despite her marriage to Gilles (Raphael Personnaz) feels borderline sapphic - is determined to keep her promise to her best friend and take care of her husband David (Romain Duris) and baby daughter. Arriving at his house unexpectedly, however, she stumbles upon his way of coping with grief - by dressing in Laura's clothing and a blonde wig (a craving he reveals Laura knew about but which had stopped while she was in his life). Although initially branding him "a pervert", a bond begins to develop between Claire and David's alter ego - named, tellingly, by Claire as Virginia - allowing Ozon to explore a mass of emotions, from grief through to lust.

He handles transvestism lightly, and while David's initial attempts to dress as a female are comical to a point, they are not played for broad laughs and Duris keeps his grief and mixed emotions close to the surface so that we are always within touching distance of them. Demoustier is also excellent as the conflicted Claire, her irrationality, challenged expectations and unexpected yearnings all jockeying for position.

Unusually, for films involving crossdressing, David also makes it clear to Claire that he is straight and that this is just something he enjoys. As the relationship between Claire and Virginia develops, Ozon emphasises his femininity against Claire in a more masculine role. Against his flowery dresses, her outfits - all beautiful designed by Pascaline Chavanne - frequently look more 'male' and she is also seen dominating both men in a way that might be traditionally thought of as more masculine, either in bed or in general. Equally, Gilles is seen 'innocently' wearing an item of Claire's clothing at one point, while both male and female gay fantasy sequences play out elsewhere.

Ozon has never been interested in handing his audiences conclusions on a plate and it seems particularly pertinent here that the ultimate destination of his characters depends on each viewer's perspective.

Reviewed on: 21 Sep 2014
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When a woman falls seriously ill her friend gets more than she bargained for after pledging to look after her baby and husband.
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Director: François Ozon

Writer: Fran├žois Ozon

Starring: Romain Duris, Anaïs Demoustier, Raphaël Personnaz, Michèle Raingeval, Jean-Claude Bolle-Reddat, Jonathan Louis, Audrey Quoturi

Year: 2014

Runtime: 108 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France


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