London Film Festival: The New Girlfriend

Directed by François Ozon

Starring Anaïs Demoustier, Romain Duris, Raphaël Personnaz and Isild Le Besco
In UK Cinemas May 22nd, 2015

by Amanda Farley

Francois Ozon’s latest offering The New Girlfriend is a sexually charged and wonderfully funny tour de force.

Claire (Anais Demoustier) and Laura (Isild Le Besco) have been best friends since childhood and are completely inseparable. That is until Laura becomes ill and dies, leaving behind her husband David (Romain Duris) and their new born baby, Lucie.

Struggling to cope with the loss of her friend Claire resolves to honour her promise to Laura that she would look after David and Luice. However when she drops by unannounced she is confronted with an unfamiliar woman. That is until she looks closer, only to find David wearing one of Laura’s old dresses and a wig. Shocked by what she has seen Claire is at first disgusted but as time goes by she becomes intrigued and as David opens up to her about his compulsions, a strange new friendship is created.

With Claire’s acceptance, David begins to grow in confidence but with Laura’s ghost always present things begin to quickly spiral out of control. As Claire becomes more and more embroiled in David’s life, it’s not long until it begins to put a strain on her own relationship with her husband Gilles (Raphael Personnaz). It’s obvious that while this isn’t a typical affair, there certainly something more then friendship on offer.

Ozon offers up a film that has a very Hitchcockian style feel about it. There is an undeniable Norman Bates quality about David. The way he is slowly morphing into the woman he loved is both creepy and touching, while his exploration of his gender is charged with possibility. It’s exciting to see his character evolve.

There is also a lot of humour in this film. Ozon manages to exploit the cracks in these characters to find some great moments of truthful comedy. Always moving forward, the story looks at the subversion of the gender role while constantly coming back to the theme of forbidden passion.

The real heart of this film though is the brilliance of the two leads. Virginia, as the female side of David, is instantly relatable and natural. Duris offers a wonderful performance and harnesses a feminine energy that is beautiful to watch. Meanwhile Claire is no less fascinating. As she confronts her own desires we see a complex inner struggle subtly portrayed. She brings a depth to the film that provides a much needed contrast against Duris’s more manic energy.

Based on a short story Ozon transforms the material into a witty and provocative look at gender and forbidden desire. This is a film which celebrates play and in which we find lovable and relatable characters. Although it veers towards farce at time Ozon manages to balance that with a sense of the melancholic. Definitely a fun and enjoyable journey to go on.

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