The New Girlfriend (2015)
The New Girlfriend (2015)
Director: François Ozon
Cast: Romain Duris, Anaïs Demoustier, Raphaël Personnaz
Synopsis: A young woman makes a surprising discovery about the husband of her late best friend.
The New Girlfriend, the latest offering from critics’ darling Francois Ozon, is a drama which, because of its subject matter, has to work hard to prevent itself from inadvertently descending into comedy. Romain Duris plays David, a former cross-dresser who finds himself slipping back into old habits (and slinky frocks) following the death of his wife six months after she gave birth to their daughter; Anais Demoustier is Claire, the deceased wife’s lifelong friend who stumbles upon David’s secret and, after overcoming her initial repulsion, aids him in his desire to live life as a woman.
Duris initially appears to be miscast in the role of David: while he’s a slightly-built man, he’s also a large, rather ungainly woman. But upon reflection it becomes clearing that Ozon’s casting was necessary. Like David, a lot of men who enjoy wearing women’s clothes are straight and have no desire to be a woman which, to be brutally honest, is why a lot of them look like a navvy in a dress. David’s clumsily exaggerated femininity illustrates perfectly the way that cross-dressers so easily become a parody of womanhood. His make-up fails to hide his five o’clock shadow, and we struggle to look upon him as anything other than a grotesque figure of fun, which is surely what Ozon intended. A pretty man in the role, who perhaps made an even prettier woman, would have diminished the incongruity between the physical appearance of the man and the deep emotions he feels. Claire’s initial repulsion is a reflection of the instinctive reaction of large swathes of society when confronted by the sight of a man who feels compelled to adorn female clothing.
That’s not to say that the sight of Duris in drag isn’t a constant distraction, at least to this reviewer, for which, presumably, I should be feeling a certain amount of guilt. And yet it’s true that I felt uncomfortable for most of the time I was watching the film. That’s the kind of movie The New Girlfriend is: it holds a mirror to its audience and asks them to consider their feelings as they watch, to analyse them. It tells us that we shouldn’t judge these men, that we are all prey to sexual confusion of some description and should therefore show more compassion to those who submit to their desires rather than suppress them. But David still has to be a flesh and blood character, and although mental strength is a prerequisite, there’s a neediness about him that doesn’t fit and is a little off-putting. He certainly doesn’t seem a strong enough catalyst for the awakening of Claire’s own latent sexual desire. The New Girlfriend is a difficult film, and is not particularly enjoyable to watch, but its message is heartfelt and its intentions worthy, and for that it deserves to be praised.
The difficult correlation between perception and attraction is hinted at from The New Girlfriend’s opening credits sequence in which the audience is deceived into admiring the close-up preparations of a woman: make-up is applied, stockings pulled on, and so forth inviting our admiration of the female form before pulling back to reveal that the images of beauty we have enjoyed belong to a female corpse being prepared for an open casket.
(Reviewed 3rd October 2015)