LFF: The New Girlfriend review

This review reveals some surprises from the early scenes of The New Girlfriend, though you will infer the same information from the film’s trailer.

The opening shots of The New Girlfriend would appear to show a woman dressing for her wedding day until director Francois Ozon pulls back and reveals that, in fact, we’re seeing her being dressed for her funeral. It’s a wry twist, and an early example of the interesting subversions that Ozon is interested in throughout the movie. This film is not made out of huge, shocking reveals but does have surprises and never seems to settle into an obvious groove.

The woman on her way to her grave is Laura (Isild Le Besco), and as we learn, she had a profound effect on those around her. The two people who feel the loss of Laura most are her best friend Claire (Anais Demoustier), who was always ignored in favour of the more popular Laura; and Laura’s husband, David (Romain Duris) the father of her child Lucie.

Claire decides one day to visit the grieving David, and on arriving at his house unannounced and letting herself in, she discovers David listening to music and giving a bottle to Lucie. But David is dressed as a woman – and not only that, he’s wearing Laura’s clothes.

Though she’s at first shocked, Claire comes around to David’s lifestyle and the pair begin hanging out and shopping, and she even gives David’s female alter-ego the name Virginia.

In tracking Claire and Virginia’s burgeoning relationship, Ozon takes us down deliberate dead ends and into unexpected directions, exploring and challenging ideas about desire, representation and sexuality. Claire is clearly drawn to Virginia but doesn’t seem as interested in David, and as the pair spend more time together it remains unclear if their feelings towards each other are driven by lust, a desire for companionship or perhaps even an attempt to somehow resurrect back Laura, who so dominated both of their lives.

The New Girlfriend comprises a number of slowly unfolding developments that twist and turn in a most fascinating fashion. Ozon shows great understanding of where and when to ratchet up the dramatics to make sure that each emotional beat lands, and he doesn’t shy away from being funny too.

Demoustier and Duris are both perfectly cast, and they deliver expertly judged performances in roles that could so easily have been exaggerated or rendered hard to beliver. Demoustier gives Claire so much wide eyed wonder and naivety that she sometimes appears childlike; at the same time, however, there’s a devilishness to her mischievous glances that reveal hints of the true character beneath her timid exterior.

The New Girlfriend does head off in some rather melodramatic directions during the final act, but Ozon maintains a steady grasp on the material. There is perhaps a tiny wobble here and there as Ozon works on the delicate balance of wry comedy and more serious drama, but he never actually loses his footing.

A hugely engrossing drama, and at times a surprisingly sprightly comedy, The New Girlfriend is really rather wonderful.

This trailer is technically NSFW for brief nudity.