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The New Girlfriend

July 12, 2016

The New Girlfriend (2014)
Director: François Ozon
Actors: Anaïs Demoustier, Romain Duris, Raphaël Personnaz

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Synopsis: Claire and Laura’s friendship moves from childhood into adulthood. When Laura dies soon after giving birth to her first-born, Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) becomes immersed in the various dilemmas afflicting Laura’s surviving husband, David (Romain Duris).

Review: Probably the best thing about The New Girlfriend is its highly evocative opening: there’s a Hitchcockian close-up of a female being dressed, having make-up applied and a wedding ring attached – only for it to be ironically revealed as a woman in a casket awaiting her funeral. And then there’s a stunning, breathless sequence taking us from the epochal moment of childhood friendship between Claire and Laura, until Laura’s death in her early adulthood. Thereafter, disappointingly, the film devolves into a slightly timid exercise in kitsch, as Laura’s widower – David – is revealed as having transvestite tendencies, and best friend Claire spends the rest of the narrative battling with the emotional and ethical dilemmas of having to aid David’s metamorphosis.

It’s the sort of thing Pedro Almodóvar would do a lot more convincingly. The New Girlfriend’s a little too camp to be taken seriously as any kind of genuinely engaging portrayal of gender experimentation and sexual transgression, and the more aspirational dramatic tangents of the film (as evident in the excellent opening) lose weight and context through the descent into soapy, sensational kitsch. Looking at François Ozon’s back catalogue, it’s clear he produces more interesting work when he plays it straight (think Under the Sand, Swimming PoolTime to Leave and Jeune et Jolie) versus his more throwaway pastiches or sex comedies (such as AngelIn the House, or this film here). (July 2016)

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