THE NEW GIRLFRIEND (2015)
Starring Romain Duris, Anais Demoustier, Raphael Personnaz, Isild Le Besco, Aurore Clement, Jean-Claude Bolle Reddat, Bruno Perard, Claudine Chatel, Anita Gillier, Alex Fondja and Zita Hanrot.
Screenplay by François Ozon.
Directed by François Ozon.
Distributed by Cohen Media Group. 107 minutes. Not Rated.
For years now, French director François Ozon has made an art of opening the closed doors of our sexual desires, allowing audiences to see what is happening in the homes of their friends, neighbors, themselves. Through his little tales of normally sordid lives – such as Swimming Pool, In the House, 8 Women and Young & Beautiful – Ozon has become one of the most respected filmmakers (and social chroniclers) in France.
It helps that he is a terrific storyteller and filmmaker. Ozon does not judge or mock his characters, they all have certain needs and he respects that. The New Girlfriend takes him into a new direction – cross-dressing – but it is a much more nuanced and complicated story than that quick description suggests.
For one thing, the main character in The New Girlfriend is a woman. A real, live, born-that-way female. The idea of cross-dressing is completely foreign to Claire (Anaïs Demoustier), a young and beautiful exec. She is happily married but completely depressed and in mourning due to the way-too-young death of her life-long best friend Laura (Isild Le Besco).
Ozon does a terrific job of filmmaking imparting that info in a short intro, in which their life histories together are shown in a short montage as Laura is being dressed in her wedding gown, only at the end of the sequence revealing that it is Laura’s corpse for burial.
Claire has been thrown into a desperate funk through the death of her best friend, a deep mourning which worries her loyal husband Gilles (Raphaël Personnaz). He doesn’t quite understand the deep blood bond that they made as little girls (there are hints that there may have also a certain amount of sexual tension between Claire and Laura – at the very least on Claire’s side), he just knows that his wife is desperately depressed and needs some closure.
Gilles suggests that Claire go to visit Laura’s widower David (Romain Duris) and their baby daughter Lucie. She avoids it for a while, but then goes to visit unannounced. She is about to leave when no one answers the door, but then she hears Lucie crying and gets nervous, so she goes into the house. In the living room, she finds a strange woman, with her back to her, trying to calm the baby. When the woman looks back, Claire is shocked to find that it is David dressed in Laura’s clothes.
David explains that Laura knew that he liked dressing as a woman, though he never had to do it when she was alive. Now that she is gone, it makes him feel closer to her. Claire is horrified by the idea, but quickly finds herself becoming more and more intrigued. She decides in a weird way that it makes Claire feel closer to Laura as well, so Claire decides to teach him how to dress and act like a woman, even going out in public.
The more times that Claire spends with David, she starts to cheer up, seeming to have found a connection back to Laura. At the same time, she is not willing to acknowledge it to others. She explains to Gilles that she is spending time with an old girlfriend named Virginia (named on the fly after a hotel across the street from her office). And the more time they spend together, the more complicated things get, with Claire coming to be more attracted to the idea of cross-dressing – even noticing excitedly when Gilles wears her scarf on a frigid night. And, subtly, her clothing choices seem to be turning slightly more masculine.
Now it is important in this age of Caitlyn to point out that while David is a cross dresser, he is not in any way gay. Like Jenner (who is transgender, not transvestite) he is a heterosexual man who enjoys being in women’s clothing. The cold hard truth of the matter is that no matter how many times he is supposedly mistaken for a woman in the film, Romain Duris in a dress still looks unmistakably like a man in a dress. (I believe that was the intention of the filmmakers, but I can’t swear to it.) Then again, so does Caitlyn.
Things get much more complicated quickly, and in some ways the original thrust of the film is lost – both Claire and David appear to move past Laura’s death awfully quickly when the secret is revealed and embrace. I also have a feeling that the brief “Seven years later…” postscript of the film will divide the viewers – I personally didn’t really buy into it – but you have to give Ozon credit for not taking the easy way out.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2015 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 16, 2015.