By Don Simpson | September 11, 2015
Director: François Ozon
Writers: François Ozon (screenplay), Ruth Rendell (short story, The New Girlfriend)
Starring: Romain Duris, Anaïs Demoustier, Raphaël Personnaz, Isild Le Besco, Aurore Clément
Claire’s (Anaïs Demoustier) childhood best friend, Laura (Isild Le Besco), died shortly after the death of her first baby. Laura’s husband David (Romain Duris) has been left to raise the baby on his own, though Claire made a promise during her eulogy to watch over David and the baby. Traumatized by the loss of her friend, it understandably takes a while for Claire to find the gumption to check in on David and the baby. But, yes, Claire eventually decides to pay David a surprise visit, thus stumbling upon a dark secret of his and causing them to have to re-navigate their relationship. The reveal of David’s secret is so pricelessly rendered (and unabashedly humorous) that it seems silly to spoil it, so please excuse any ambiguities from this point forward. Let us just say the film finds a suitable substitute for Laura, thus allowing a close examination of the differences between female friendships and male-female friendships.
With The New Girlfriend, writer-director François Ozon adopts a Hitchcockian formalism mixed graciously with Sirkian melodrama and tinged with a twist of strange, uncomfortable humor. Adapted quite loosely from Ruth Rendell’s short story, The New Girlfriend, one of Ozon’s most significant departures is in referentially interjecting a narrative trope that features a character named Laura who continues to intimately permeate the narrative post-mortem (fans of Otto Preminger and David Lynch will get the reference).
The New Girlfriend is a cunning and crafty film sprinkled with droll, dark comedy. Ozon gives his characters the freedom to dodge traditional definitions of identity in the midst of the blurring of gender and the shifting scale of sexuality; even the traditional notions of family are tossed aside in favor of a tabula rasa. Carefully disconnecting appearance (specifically dress) from sexual orientation, Ozon studiously reconfigures the rules of attraction and desire. From Ozon’s perspective, even perversity and sanity are rendered relatively unimportant. Ozon has essentially shaken the existential Etch A Sketch clean. The New Girlfriend is not about redefining being and identity, it is about leaving them ambiguous and undefined.
The New Girlfriend screens as the Centerpiece Film of the 28th annual Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival (aGLIFF). For more information, check out the aGLIFF Program.