The New Girlfriend (2014) / Drama-Romance

MPAA Rated: R for some strong sexual content and graphic nudity
Running Time: 108 min.

Cast: Anais Demoustier, Romain Duris, Raphael Personnaz, Isild Le Besco
Cameo: Francois Ozon
Director: Francois Ozon

Screenplay: Francois Ozon (based on the short story, "The New Girlfriend", by Ruth Rendell)
Review published October 13, 2015

Anais Demoustier (Elles, Bird People) stars as Claire, who is mourning the passing of her best friend since childhood, Laura (Le Besco, Girls Can't Swim), who leaves behind a husband, David (Duris, Populaire), and a newborn baby girl, Lucie.  Claire vows to always look after little Lucie in the absence of a mother figure only to find a mother figure already there, as she spies that David has taken to wearing Laura's clothing, bringing out his latent penchant for transvestitism.  It's a secret Laura knew of, and now he shares it with Claire, but their continued friendship means hiding the secret from Claire's husband Gilles (Personnaz, Anna Karenina), who thinks his wife is merely hanging out with an old female friend named Virginia.  However, David is quite fond of Claire, and Claire, who has always harbored romantic feelings for Laura, begins to get confused by this new woman in her life who dresses, smells and lives in the house of her beloved best friend.

Offbeat French auteur Francois Ozon (Swimming Pool, 8 Women) directs this comic drama, very loosely adapted from a short story by British author Ruth Rendell, which explores the various confusion that can occur when the lines between gender identity and sexual identity begin to cross paths.  Ozon certainly can see much humor in the situation, but also pathos and a certain agony, as part of the attraction of David's decision to dress in his deceased wife's clothes, and of Claire's turn toward good feelings for him, comes from the remembrance of Laura, and what she meant to both of them.  Indeed, even their child Lucie is more comforted by feeling that her mother is still there.

Fans of Ozon will likely enjoy the film most, perhaps also crossing over into those who also enjoy the works of Pedro Almodovar, who has built a career subverting the notions of traditional sex and gender roles with good humor and some heartbreak.  Shades of Brian De Palma thrillers, especially Dressed to Kill, enter the mix, though Ozon is much more interested in exploring the benign nature of cross-dressing than in associating sexual perversity with homicidal tendencies, done with equally stylish panache, which belies the notion that The New Girlfriend is come sort of suspense and murder mystery, which some reviews of the movie seem to indicate.

While not to every taste, it's a very intriguing and respectable effort for those who are game, even as it dabbles with high melodrama from time to time.  It's beautifully filmed and scored, with two solid lead performers that tread the line between seeing the absurdity of their situations, as well as the heartbreak, in ways that are surprising. It's daring enough, but not as much so as other Ozon efforts, and the tone -- which dabbles with comedy, drama, romance, and thriller -- never settles in, leaving The New Girlfriend feeling like a film that's trying on different attire to see what fits, but never entirely comfortable with any of the choices.

Qwipster's rating:

2015 Vince Leo