The New Girlfriend (Cohen Media Group, R)

The-New-Girlfriend 75The New Girlfriend shifts from melodrama to thriller, and serves well as a comedy.


The-New-Girlfriend 500

The New Girlfriend opens at a funeral. A young woman, Laura, has died. Laura’s husband, David (Romain Duris), has chosen to bury her in her wedding gown. At the service her lifelong best friend, Claire (Anaïs Demoustier), gives a speech through teary eyes in which she promises to watch over Laura’s new baby and husband. Months later, a grief-stricken Claire unexpectedly drops by to visit David and baby Lucie. To her surprise (but not yours if you saw the trailer), she sees David dressed in Laura’s clothes and a blonde wig cradling Lucie. He’s even wearing her perfume. A vulnerable David stumbles away to change out of Laura’s clothes and into something more “suitable.” Claire is appalled.

David assures Claire that Laura always knew of his behavior, and begs Claire to keep his secret—for Lucie’s sake if nothing else. He then tells Claire that while with Laura he didn’t feel the need to dress as a woman. He lived vicariously through Laura’s femininity, but now that she’s gone his desire returns. Claire calls him a pervert, but does keep his secret. Slowly her repulsion melts into curiosity. She gives David’s female alter ego the name “Virginia.” They start going to the mall together as gal-pals do. Eventually Virginia becomes her own woman, as she moves on from Laura’s wardrobe to her own personal style. It brings about changes in Claire too, as she is forced to face her sexual feelings for her late friend.

The New Girlfriend shifts from melodrama to thriller, and serves well as a comedy. It may sound like a film capable of giving a viewer whiplash, but in the hands of François Ozon the blend of genres feels both natural and fresh. Ozon has been long known to be an audacious filmmaker with a focus on feminine expressions of sexuality. The film also shares an unexpected tie to Vertigo, just as this year’s Phoenix does, in the way it studies how we deal with loss.

There are strong performances across the board in this film. Romain Duris plays a tough role going between Virginia and David, at which he is quite competent. However, Anaïs Demoustier shines the brightest as Claire. There is much more going on internally with Claire than the film’s surface suggests. Her performance brings all this bubbling to the surface. Ms. Demoustier has something in her facial expressions that always calls attention to her character’s internal struggle.

In a film about a man reawakening his sexual desires to dress as a woman, it may seem as a surprise that Claire is the core of the story—but she is. She starts off as a self-effacing woman with a tendency to mute her own femininity, but through her time with Virginia it begins to bloom. Claire is an honest portrayal of certain type of woman you don’t often see on screen. (I know I found myself relating to her quite often.) Ozon has shared in interviews that in an early version of the film it was to end with Claire repeating the infamous Simone de Beauvoir quote, “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman.” That is most certainly what this film is about, two people discovering their womanhood through each other. | Cait Lore

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