François Ozon’s cinematic eye yet again shines very distinctively in The New Girlfriend (2014). He returns to familiar thematic stomping grounds: the rules of gender and identity, immanent sexuality and the propriety of certain constructions of family life. Ozon has always been able to craft sleek, tongue-in-cheek films that span a number of genres. In The New Girlfriend viewers are given a piece that walks the tightrope between drama and comedy, thriller and thinkpiece. This is a film that artfully ponders the process of grief while also finding rebirth from within. Its an emotionally complex cannonball that is immensely watchable.
In the wake of the death of her childhood best friend Laura (Isild Le Besco), Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) is a mess. She has lost a major player in her life and the time she spends healing is precarious indeed. Laura also left behind milquetoast husband David (Romain Duris) and their baby daughter, Lucie. Claire had made a promise to Laura to keep watch over both husband and baby and, one day, she decides to drop by unexpectedly to visit them both. Upon entering the house, Claire stumbles upon something quite profound: David in a blond wig, a dress and full makeup. Claire is horrified but David implores for her to stay and hear him explain his situation.
In the coming weeks, the two explore a new form of friendship and hone David’s new identity together, weaving an intricate web of secrets in their wake. This is a tightly wound film that makes no moral judgements. Ozon has often incorporated themes and issues of queer cinema into his work; here its transvestism that plays at the forefront of many a dramatic quandary. David tells Claire he is still attracted to women. He loves everything about women so much he muses that it may be the cause of his cross-dressing. Amid these searching questions is an examination of the scenario’s daily application, especially amid feelings of grieving and loss. David’s cross-dressing is a declaration of independence, a way to keep some semblance of normalcy for Lucie (who responds to her mother’s semi-doppelgänger positively) but also it serves as a way for both David and Claire to connect.
In a similar fashion, the parameters of femininity are never concretely defined but rather poked and prodded. Claire cuts a tomboyish jib but David’s new identity allows her to exercise her female expertise, guiding him through a new life. She refashions her life post-Laura in the hyper-feminine mirror David provides for her: she wears more dresses, applies makeup more often, yearns for a child of her own. The New Girlfriend is darkly heartwarming. Ozon reshapes the source material to feel a bit more fairy-tale while maintaining thriller undertones. Veritably, Ozon is firing on all cylinders here, giving viewers a neat slice of cinematic confection the showcases what he does best: present morally complicated but very human stories that have enough panache to keep all eyes at attention for as long as he desires.
Allie Gemmill | @alliegem