Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) and Laura’s (Isild Le Besco) friendship is not that unique. Having met when they were young, they had grown up together, and forged a relationship that would see them through school, first love, first heartbreak, marriage and children. Their friendship is like any between two women who grew up together as little girls. When Laura dies of a terminal illness years later, Claire vows to watch over Laura’s baby daughter. It’s only then that she discovers Laura’s husband, David (Romain Duris), is not what he seems …
And that’s about as startling as it gets in The New Girlfriend, because you gasp once at David dressing up in his dead wife’s clothes and you settle in for another hour and a bit of David and Claire muddling through the meaning of their new friendship … and it’s kind of a really cool thing to see.
Director François Ozon (8 Femmes, Swimming Pool) isn’t one to shy away from themes of sexual identity, so this here in The New Girlfriend shouldn’t come as a surprise. He created this film and adapted it from a short story originally written by British crime writer Ruth Rendell. Perhaps it was a little more sinister in its original short story form, but Ozon seems to have done away with that and instead turned it into a film about identity and relationships. He’s worked the film with a touch of French farce and a big massive dollop French sexuality thrown in for good measure. Europeans and sex, hey? What can you do?
Anaïs Demoustier as Claire is amazing. If you haven’t heard of her, here’s someone worth looking out for. She’s the next Mélanie Laurent. She’s the grieving best friend on one hand, then the perplexed woman on the other hand. Who is her late best friend’s husband, now? In David, she saw a good partner for her friend and an amazing father for their daughter. In Virginia (David’s female persona), does she get her old friend back? Should she expect that? Is there more to their new friendship? There’s a lovely scene with Virginia and Claire shopping together at the mall, but later Claire is disturbed when she sees David at home, and prefers that she have dinner with Virginia.
Romain Duris (The Spanish Apartment, Chinese Puzzle) is not the newcomer here, and his performance in this film is pretty good too. He plays David/Virginia not as two separate people, but as one person, only Duris portrays this knowing only one persona will win out in the end. His interpretation of someone finally coming to terms with his or her sexuality is sensitive and endearing. And he looks OK in a shift dress.
The New Girlfriend isn’t a big political film supporting LGBT rights, and maybe that’s a good thing. It’s not trying to send a message – it’s simply talking about the nature of identity, gender roles and how relationships shift and change when you change. If you place the theme of change in any context, it’ll work. And it works here.
The New Girlfriend is an interesting, and, at the end of the day, enjoyable film about two people forming a new kind of relationship. Best not to watch it with someone really conservative. Actually, no, fuck it, make them watch it. It’ll open their eyes a bit. It’s just a film about two girlfriends getting along, after all …
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The New Girlfriend / Une Nouvelle Amie is screening in Australia as part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival. For more information or to purchase tickets please visit the official French Film Festival website.