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New Release Review - THE NEW GIRLFRIEND

When her best friend dies, a young woman discovers her widowed husband is secretly a transvestite.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Francois Ozon

Starring: Romain Duris, Anais Demoustier, Raphael Personnaz, Isild Le Besco, Aurore Clement



"There are some standout moments, most notably a visit to a gay club in which a rousing performance by a transvestite singer has a moving effect on David/Virginia, and Duris gives a pitch perfect and sensitive performance, but we expect so much more from a storyteller of Ozon's class."



After his thrilling 2012 psychodrama In the House, the prolific writer-director Francois Ozon is now two for two with regards mediocre disappointments, his latest film The New Girlfriend following on from the preposterous prostitution drama Young & Beautiful. This one is based on a short story by Ruth Rendell, an English writer who has provided source material for continental auteurs like Pedro Almodavar (Live Flesh) and Claude Chabrol (La Ceremonie) in the past, but it really reflects Ozon's obsession with classic American cinema, drawing heavily on Hitchcock's Vertigo and Preminger's Laura, right down to the prominent inclusion of a dead girl's portrait.
That dead girl is Laura (aha!), whose corpse we see in the credit sequence getting decked out in funeral garb; the twist is she's being buried in her wedding dress! The most melancholy tinged montage since the opening of Pixar's Up details the close friendship Laura (Isild Le Besco) shared with Claire (Anais Demoustier) from childhood to her death from a sudden illness. In between, we see both girls wed - Claire to straight as an arrow Gilles (Raphael Personnaz), Laura to the effeminate David (Romain Duris), with whom she spawns a daughter. One afternoon, Claire pops around to check in on David and discovers him feeding milk to his daughter while clad in his dead wife's clothes. At first he claims he was struck by the idea as a way of calming down the child, but soon he admits he had been cross-dressing before Laura's passing. Initially shocked, Claire comes around to the idea, even inventing a name for David's female persona - Virginia. Together, Claire and 'Virginia' explore their respective feminine sexuality.
With Rendell as its source, you would be forgiven for expecting Ozon's film to fall into the thriller genre, but a crime element is nowhere to be found here. Instead we have a modern melodrama cross-dressed in the outfits of the suspense genre. When David first leaves the house in his Virginia persona, his choice of clothing - blonde wig, shades and overcoat - recalls Michael Caine's psychotic transvestite from De Palma's Dressed to Kill. The references to Vertigo and Laura, with Demoustier's Claire in love with both a dead woman (Laura) and one who doesn't really exist (Virginia), add to the genre cross-pollination. But in spite of its theme, The New Girlfriend is as straight as dramas get.
The narrative suffers from a predictability factor that telegraphs every twist long before it occurs, and Ozon, usually so adept at spinning a good yarn, lays out the story in a hum-drum a-b-c fashion. There are some standout moments, most notably a visit to a gay club in which a rousing performance by a transvestite singer has a moving effect on David/Virginia, and Duris gives a pitch perfect and sensitive performance, but we expect so much more from a storyteller of Ozon's class.



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