New girl on the block

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

THE NEW GIRL­FRIEND Di­rected by François Ozon. Star­ring Ro­main Duris, Anaïs De­moustier, Raphaël Per­son­naz, Isild Le Besco. Club, IFI Dublin, 107 mins

When Claire (Anaïs De­moustier) drops in on David (Ro­main Duris), the wid­ower of her re­cently de­ceased best friend, she is shocked to find David in woman’s cloth­ing. “Pervert,” she cries. But this is a film by François Ozon, a film­maker who has spent some 17 years ex­plor­ing the com­plex­i­ties of ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships, sex­ual iden­tity and love in all its strange dis­place­ments. We can trust that Ozon’s adap­ta­tion of a short story by Ruth Ren­dell will not end so judg­men­tally.

Once she has re­cov­ered from the shock, Claire re­turns to David. Slowly, his al­ter-ego whom Claire calls Veron­ica emerges. And Claire grad­u­ally be­gins wear­ing the trousers, both lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively. Her hus­band sus­pects she is hav­ing an af­fair. But is she fall­ing for David, whose lower back she now waxes, or has she sim­ply found a new BFF?

Pas­cal Marti’s cin­e­matog­ra­phy finds a fairy­tale can­vas in sub­ur­bia: this is not quite the lush, post-Sirk op­u­lence that Ozon utilised so well for 8 Women, nor is it the dig­i­tal down-low of Time to Leave. Tonally, it’s im­pos­si­ble not to think of Pe­dro Almod­ó­var, not least be­cause he also had a crack at Ren­dell with Live Flesh.

But Ozon is al­ways canny in his ne­go­ti­a­tions of sex­ual shenani­gans. And Duris and De­moustier do ter­rific work teas­ing out the com­plex­i­ties. Duris’s first ap­pear­ances in drag are semi-com­i­cal, but as he de­vel­ops his fe­male per­sona, the viewer is in­creas­ingly in­clined to see Veron­ica, not David. This world, like our own, can­not be pi­geon­holed into neat lit­tle packages marked “gay” or “straight” or “mas­cu­line” or “fem­i­nine”.

Clever. And clev­erly done.

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