François Ozon’s films are well produced dramas, usually with some sort of a dire or shocking twist. His most recent, In The House, was about a boy and his writing teacher invading the privacy of another student’s mother.
The New Girlfriend also touches a socially awkward nerve, though this time the motive is acceptance rather than provocation.
Yes, Santa Claus, There Is a Virginia
The credits run over closeups of an unconventional woman getting dressed. It’s a surprising, darkly funny, and fitting setup for this film about a cross-dressing man.
A woman is dead. Her best friend Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) comes to console the grieving widower and maybe help with the infant, only to find him wearing his wife’s clothes.
Ozon walks the middle ground between wacky laughs and grim seriousness. David (Romain Duris) really is a depressed, repressed cross-dresser learning to come out of the closet. But the budding friendship between his "Virginia" and his wife’s friend Claire can be a lark between the girls.
There’s a touch more drama than comedy in The New Girlfriend. Claire keeps David’s secret from her husband, which leads to suspicion and jealousy on his part. And David’s coming out as a woman to family and colleagues is still a big shock, even in 2014.
Then there’s Claire’s history with David’s wife Laura. Claire was always the sidekick in that relationship, and there’s a hint she was jealous of Laura. Maybe envy is part of her motivation to spend time with David/Virginia.
Out of the Closet
Inevitably, the question of romance between Claire and David/Virginia arises. Which one will Claire be attracted to (and vice-versa)? Or will their girls-night-out friendship prove to be the strongest connection between them?
There are probably too many developments, including a gratuitous-seeming car accident, before the movie ends on a message of acceptance of an awkward situation.
I’ll admit that the subject matter made me a little uneasy. And I think that’s exactly why Ozon chose it (his screenplay is based on a novel by Ruth Rendell). Give him credit for good timing, though. Since The New Girlfriend showed at TIFF, I’ve seen a documentary about a cross-dressing man explaining to the audience just how difficult it was to come out. Being gay is more acceptable in our time than being a transvestite.
Timely or not, The New Girlfriend is probably not Ozon’s best work. But it’s a solid drama/comedy for anyone who likes the French director.