In the movie The New Girlfriend, Claire (Anais Demoustier) and Laura (Isild Le Besco) have been best friends since childhood. When Laura falls ill and dies, Claire reaches out to comfort her friend’s bereaved husband, David (Romain Duris), and makes a surprising discovery about him: David secretly enjoys dressing as a woman. Ozon relates the story of Claire and David by bringing dashes of Douglas Sirk and George Cukor to a twenty-first-century narrative that elevates his exploration of femininity to a new level, blending his trademark sense of mischief with Hitchcockian suspense.
One of France’s best known and most versatile actors who excels in comedy as well as drama, Romain Duris has worked with many top French directors, from Jacques Audiard to Cédric Klapisch and Christophe Honoré, starring in films such as The Beat That My Heart Skipped, L’Auberge Espagnole, Heartbreaker, Paris, Chinese Puzzle and Mood Indigo.
The New Girlfriend marks his first time working with Francois Ozon, one of French cinema’s most prolific writer-directors. Ozon has explored and subverted many genres in films including Water Drops on Burning Rocks, Criminal Lovers, Under the Sand, 8 Women, Swimming Pool, 5×2, Time To Leave, Hideaway, In the House and Young and Beautiful. The New Girlfriend continues his exploration of cracking open the facade of the contemporary bourgeoisie.
Prior to The New Girlfriend, works by mystery fiction British writer Ruth Rendell have been adapted by European filmmakers, among them Claude Chabrol in La Ceremonie and The Bridesmaid, Claude Miller in Alias Betty and Pedro Almodovar in Live Flesh.
The New Girlfriend REVIEW
By Adam McCarthy
The Subtle Brilliance of Anaïs Demoustier in François Ozon’s The New Girlfriend
François Ozon’s film The New Girlfriend, starring Romain Duris and Anaïs Demoustier as David and Claire, explores the complex nature of gender and sexual identity. The film focuses on the transgender blossoming of David into Virginia while subtly documenting the sexual revelations of the character often in the shadows, Claire.
After the death of his wife, David begins once again to dress up as a woman. Portraying a burgeoning transgender, one is at first incredulous of David’s character. His newly acquired flamboyant mannerisms seem forced. His appearance as a woman is eerily masculine. But as the film progresses, you realize that David’s imperfect transition into Virginia is exactly what makes it beautiful and full of verisimilitude. His seemingly forced gestures are exactly that, capturing the over-excitement that many have when they finally step into their new identity. The masculine vestiges when he dresses up as a woman are a testament that external appearances have little to do with what is felt on the inside and that David/Virginia’s identity is more complex than simply the distinction between man and woman. Watching David/Virginia grow into her (literal and figurative) new high-heel shoes is like watching a child learn how to ride a bicycle. It is at first awkward and seemingly impossible, but given enough time we see David/Virginia work out the kinks in her new identity, and ride confidently like a child sailing along on two wheels. Yet while the film focuses largely on the journey of David/Virginia, it is the subtle work of Demoustier that fuels the brilliance of this film.
Claire is a character always on the periphery. At first she is shrouded by the glamorous life of her best friend Laura, and next by the force of David/Virginia’s metamorphosis. Yet Claire goes through revelations of equal significance concerning her own sexual identity as those of David/Virginia, though she is afforded no room to develop in the same grandiose way as her counterpart. The remarkable work of Demoustier then is her ability to portray the internal development she undergoes as she begins to feel attracted to David/Virginia. So while Virginia’s transformation is facilitated by large external expressions, Claire is afforded no more grand expression than the furrow of a brow, a lengthy far-off gaze or ruminations portrayed on screen as her own internal visions and dreams. Working under such restrictions and achieving the necessary development with great poise, Demoustier is thus the true brilliance of this film, reaffirming that sometimes, in such solar systemic dynamics, it is not always the sun who is the most significant.