François Ozon’s quirky, witty dramas have made him one of Europe’s most alternative yet accessible film directors. In this latest dissection of sexuality is his decision to tackle men’s gender issues worthy of praise or just a load of men’s tackle?
When her best friend Laura (Isild Le Besco) dies, leaving behind her husband David (Romain Duris) and their newborn daughter Lucie, Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) succumbs to depression; something that’s only alleviated when she discovers something surprising about David and his house-bound habits that gives her a new lease of life.
It’s no spoiler to reveal the twist, given the poster and title pretty much does that for you, so when Claire is confronted with David’s transvestitism she is shocked at first. But as the pair embrace this hidden desire Claire begins to see David, and his alter-ego Virginia, are just what they both need to help cope with their loss.
But what develops amidst the usual themes Ozon explores – middle class attitudes disturbed in an almost ‘Inspector Calls’ kind of way – is a tender story of friendship and love between two people who come to share in a kind of sexual awakening.
Duris, who for some will always be The Beat That My Heart Skipped’s arty thug or Heartbreaker’s fabulously cocky conman, excels as David, managing to portray his plight with wit and relish while Demoustier provides the film’s other journey to enlightenment as the story reaches a surprisingly emotional pay-off come the finale.
Lacking the usual thriller element associated with a Ruth Rendell story, or of Duris’ most under-appreciated effort The Big Picture, The New Girlfriend emerges as a lively and thought-provoking piece which, like Virginia, deserves to flourish on its own merits.