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The New Girlfriend (2014)
Une nouvelle amie

Directed by: François Ozon

2 stars

Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) and Laura grow up as inseparable best friends – a relationship that, at least for Claire, may be more than just platonic. They support each through everything, including marriage, but Laura falls ill and, shortly after giving birth, she dies.

Claire and husband Gilles (Raphäel Personnaz) want to support Laura’s widower David (Romain Duris) and baby Lucie, but when she drops in unexpectedly Claire discovers David dressed as a woman, with more than a passing resemblance to the late Laura.

Initially repelled, Claire starts to help David (or Virginia, as they call David’s alter ego) to dress and shop. Soon, Claire’s relationship with David starts to change.

There are several concurrent themes in François Ozon’s new movie, and they jostle uncomfortably for space. There’s gender and sexual roles (at times it seems almost everyone is unsure of their identity, with Claire adopting male styles, and husband Gilles slowing down to look at kerbside transvestites with only baby Lucie being very firmly rooted); there’s sexual fidelity; and there’s grieving and obsession (at times, it feels a little like there’s a nod to Vertigo in the way both Claire and David conspire in creating a facsimile of Laura).

Only the three principal characters are fleshed out to any great degree. Others are somewhat two-dimensional, and the elderly (in the firm of Laura’s parents) are given a particularly rough ride.

Some of the time the movie is played for laughs, and it’s then that The New Girlfriendis perhaps at its most successful. Drama gives way to melodrama near the end, and the closing is unforgivably trite, with one of the main characters having apparently been entirely forgotten.

The problem is not with the performances, which are generally excellent (particularly from Anaïs Demoustier and Romain Duris), but rather with the direction and writing.

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