Despite a daring performance from Romain Duris, the film stalls just enough for it to fall short of something great.
The New Girlfriend (TIFF Review)
If there’s anything we’ve learned from François Ozon‘s past work it’s this: The man is unafraid to explore boundaries of sexuality. And he does it extremely well (see: Young & Beautiful, 8 Women, In the House, Swimming Pool). While his latest film The New Girlfriend may not be his best exploration in this area, we certainly enjoyed the effort from him, as well has the daring performance from lead actor Romain Duris, who makes this role his best to date.
The opening montages contain so much detail yet such brevity that only a few filmmakers such as Ozon can pull off. During the opening credits a woman is shown in her wedding dress before slowly revealed that she’s lying in a casket. As close ones mourn the loss of Laura, her best friend Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) makes a speech about how they first met. Set to a somber duo of piano and violin, flashbacks show how their friendship blossomed from grade school and how they eventually met their future husbands. Though after Laura gave birth to her child she tragically passed away, leaving behind her child and her husband David (Duris). This all happens within about 5 minutes and it’s easily the best edited segment of the entire film.
Claire has a hard time dealing with the fact that her best friend is no longer with her, but holds up her promise of looking after David and the newborn. One day as Claire is checking to see how the two are handling Laura’s passing, she discovers one of David’s most secret pleasures–dressing up as a woman. David confesses to this desire, but also points out that the baby misses a feminine presence.
Some time passes before Claire can fully process and accept David’s eagerness to dress as a woman. During that same time David finally realizes that the baby was more of an excuse and that he actually wants to become a woman. So he develops a whole new personality when he puts on the wig and dress and prefers to go by the name Virginia. Because Claire is the only one who knows about this secret and the only one he trusts, the two end up spending a great deal of time together, forming a stronger bond than they ever had before.
Most of the action in The New Girlfriend happens early on, making the middle section feel lengthy until finally some late film developments add a little excitement back. Ozon mixes in some humor here and there to help lighten things up, but ultimately it’s the actors that make us keep watching. Duris is stellar putting on a two-for-one show playing both a male and female character who struggle with finding themselves. Demoustier is also excellent playing an equally confused character the audience can sympathize with.
But the performances and the astute filmmaking alone won’t be enough to win over audiences. And even if Ozon isn’t the type of director who aims to please the masses, The New Girlfriend stalls just enough for it to fall short of something great.