New girl on the block
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.