Francois Ozon‘s latest film, The New Girlfriend, follows the slightly shaky In the House and serves as a striking return to form for the French filmmaker. Loosely based on Ruth Rendell’s 1985 short-story, The New Girlfriend is packed with psychosexual melodrama, Hitchcockian twists, and Ozon’s wicked sense of humour.
After her best friend Laura dies, Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) attempts to comfort David, her widowed husband (Romain Duris). Claire discovers that David is a transvestite – something which was reignited by the death of his wife. The pair’s relationship takes an unexpected turn as David (aka Virginia) begins to take Laura’s place in Claire’s life – affecting each of them in unthinkable ways.
Ozon has crafted a watch stowed with complex narrative themes exploring gender identity, human sexuality, and the blurred lines between these two areas. Claire and David’s relationship begins as an unlikely friendship as the young woman helps the widow come to terms with his female identity, however, Ozon revels in exploring the tense repercussions of this new bond. This relationship is presented in a similar manner to a traditional affair (which it isn’t), with Claire keeping David’s new identity from her partner Gilles (Raphaël Personnaz). However, Ozon finds much dramatic tension and melodrama within this dynamic – from Claire and Virginia’s secret getaways to shopping trips, this is a relationship that feels unsafe. With added themes of grief intertwined with those of sexuality, friendship and gender identity, The New Girlfriend becomes an emotional melting pot filled with shifting relationship dynamics and psychological game-play.
There are very few examples of ‘fixed gender identity’ throughout The New Girlfriend: Claire and Laura’s relationship is ambiguous (hints of a lesbian romance are prevalent), Claire has suspicions regarding husband Gilles and David’s relationship – culminating in a steamy shower fantasy sequence between the two. Also, Claire develops more masculine traits (the stereotypical finishing first during sex being one), as Gilles becomes more traditionally maternal in his care for David’s child. Ozon has packed The New Girlfriend with a true sexual ambiguity and provides a firm challenge to the norms of traditional gender-performativity – Judith Butler would delighted. It all makes for a fascinating and consistently entertaining study on identity, freedom of expression, and relationship dynamics.
Themes of blurred gender identity are channelled into Ozon’s aesthetic choices, soundtrack, and narrative direction. David and Claire’s delight during a drag performance featuring a lip-synced rendition of Nicole Croisille‘s ‘Une Femme Avec Toi‘ taps into the flexible notion of gender, whilst giving the film a welcome Ozonian camp. Androgynous disco icon Amanda Lear‘s Follow Me soundtracks a disco sequence, whilst scenes of Claire and Virginia’s shopping trips are basked in bubblegum teen-pop glory thanks to Katy Perry’s Hot ‘n Cold. Whilst these moments provide cheeky breaks from the melodrama and suspense, it’s impressive to see how Ozon uses each cinematic facet to emphasise the rich thematical framework of The New Girlfriend.
The New Girlfriend is a complex and compelling tale packed with simmering suspense, dark humour, and brooding, emotionally-charged melodrama that showcases Ozon as a filmmaker at the top of his game.
Genre:Drama, World Cinema Distributor: Metrodome Release Date:22nd May 2015 (UK) Rating:15 Director:François Ozon Cast: Romain Duris, Anaïs Demoustier, Raphaël Personnaz