VOD film review: The New Girlfriend
Exploration of gender and identity8
Ivan Radford | On 14, Sep 2015Reading time: 2 mins
Director: Francois Ozon
Cast: Romain Duris, Anaïs Demoustier
Watch The New Girlfriend online in the UK: TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Madness. Grief. Identity. Sex. All of them combine to striking effect in The New Girlfriend. The fact it’s written by the late Ruth Rendell, then, may come as some surprise – this involving, daring and disarming drama feels a long way from her familiar Inspector Wexford files. But that source material might also help attract older viewers, who are likely to be taken aback by the style and wit on display.
Director François Ozon begins with the death of young mother Laura: the first shot of her wedding dress, ultimately revealed to be her funeral outfit, is cackle-inducingly dark, segueing into a touching montage of memories between her and her best friend, Claire (Anaïs Demoustier). Virtually wordless and handsomely mounted, it sits alongside Pixar’s Up in the great opening sequences league.
It’s a sign of how good a storyteller Ozon is that you could do away with dialogue for most of the rest of the movie and still follow – and enjoy – what’s going on. It helps that the premise is so simple: we gradually see Claire and Laura’s husband, David (Romain Duris), deal with their loss, in direct and indirect ways. A normal story would see the pair begin an illicit romance, but Ozon follows Rendell’s text in a more satirical direction, as a plutonic alternative rears its head. A threesome of sorts emerges, as Claire’s own husband struggles to understand what his bereaved wife is going through, and single parent David struggles to be a mother as well as a father to his child.
Demoustier is impressively conflicted as Claire, swinging between tears and excitement, but this is Romain Duris’ show. His sensational performance uses the whole of his body, combining his usual, manly presence with tiny hints of femininity; when trying to fit into his wife’s shoes, so to speak, his entire gait shifts, almost imperceptibly, to something more elegant. As the bond between these two new BFFs grows, the script’s initial rush of subversion gives way to more familiar melodramatic beats, but Ozon’s fascination with the boundaries of gender remain, bringing to life sequences in hotel rooms and burlesque clubs with a delicate touch. The most unexpected thing about it all? How affecting it is, even during the more far-fetched moments. Smart, funny, sweet and occasionally a little too traditional, The New Girlfriend is something you shouldn’t hesitate to introduce to your parents – if only to see their faces.