Based on the Ruth Rendell short story of the same name, The New Girlfriend (Une Nouvelle Amie) is typical of writer-director François Ozon. It’s the kind of film that is going to make you laugh, cringe a little and ultimately play with the ideas of conventional love.
To outline too much of the plot would be to give much of the game away. Suffice to say Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) and Laura (Isild Le Besco) have been best friends since childhood. But Claire always lacked the attention from others that Laura demanded naturally. As the years go by Laura marries David (Romain Duris) while Claire marries Gilles (Raphaël Personnaz). Alas the perfect life is not meant to be because Laura falls ill and dies leaving David and their infant daughter alone with Claire promising to look after them. Visiting the house one day Claire enters to discover David has been harbouring a secret that sets them both off on a path of emotional and sexual discovery.
There’s something distinctly reminiscent of Blur’s song ‘Girls And Boys’ going on in The New Girlfriend, a sense of ‘love the one you’re with’. That song never plays but Katy Perry’s ‘Hot N Cold’ plays a fairly pivotal part and serves the same purpose. From the get-go you suspect that David and Claire’s respective titillations have been there from the start. Ozon plants enough seeds in the opening montage to certainly bring a sense of the inevitable to the film but more powerful is their desperation to some how keep Laura alive through their newfound relationship.
Like the characters the film refuses to conform to just being one thing. It starts as a tragic drama, dips into dark comedy, toys with a bit of psychological thriller but ultimately ends up as a well calculated character study with a good dose of buddy relationship just teetering on the edge. David and Claire weren’t close before she discovered his secret, upon realising the truth about him though they escape into a secret world together.
As you would expect from a Rendell story there is a degree of mystery at its core but Ozon smartly never allows it to descend into an over-elaborate psycho-sexual, Brian De Palma-like caper. Instead it’s delicate, often funny and always keeps you guessing without misleading you.
Duris is wonderful in his role. At times damaged, at others exuberantly confident, there is fragility to David that allows you to forgive his sometimes lecherous, even lupine, gaze. But the real standout is Demoustier, her performance as Claire is wonderfully nuanced. It is often her secret smiles that brings much of the warmth and comedy to the film but more so her ability to perfectly capture that sense of terrified sexual awakening.
Fans of Ozon’s work will no doubt be enthralled by The New Girlfriend whereas many newcomers will find this a much more accessible work than previous efforts. The New Girlfriend is a darkly funny little character drama with two wonderfully sincere and adorable central performances.