The New Girlfriend

The New Girlfriend

2014, R, 108 min. Directed by François Ozon. Starring Romain Duris, Anaïs Demoustier, Raphaël Personnaz, Isild Le Besco, Aurore Clément, Claudine Chatel.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 25, 2015

The New Girlfriend begins with the arresting image of lipstick being applied to a pair of voluptuous female lips. Richard Wagner’s Bridal Chorus pipes on the soundtrack while the woman, her face now in extreme close-up with eyes wide open, remains motionless as a white veil is pulled over her face. Then a hand enters the frame and gently closes this mysterious beauty’s eyelids. As the camera pulls back, we see that this is no wedding – the woman is being readied for her funeral. Director Ozon, who made an unforgettable splash with 2003’s Swimming Pool, a movie that deals with fluid, disconcerting questions of sexual identity and desire, works a thematically similar trick in The New Girlfriend. This time, though, it’s cut through with nervous laughter and an initial vibe that brings to mind the earlier works of Brian De Palma at his most Hitchcockian, and, eventually, Hitch’s masterpiece of lost love and l’amour fou, Vertigo.

The corpse is Laura (Besco), who has left behind her husband David (Duris) and their newborn daughter, Lucie. But the tragedy of a young life abruptly cut short transcends the bounds of blood to include Laura’s lifelong best friend, confidante, and Lucie’s godmother Claire (Demoustier), who now resolves to help both herself and David through the loss of their mutual loved one. Ozon uses an economical but excellent flashback montage to allow us to discover the origins of Laura and Claire’s extraordinary friendship, and then returns to the wracking grief and emotional displacement of the present, wherein all manner of surprises – not least the myriad meanings inherent in the film’s title – await.

Out for a jog one morning, Claire finds herself drawn to widower David’s suburban house. It’s apparent on her face that she didn’t consciously intend to drop in, but there she is, so she knocks on the front door, which is unlocked, and, hearing little Lucie crying, enters. What she finds is why I mentioned De Palma earlier: A blond woman is sitting on the couch with the baby, but her back is to the audience. Announcing herself, the mystery nanny turns, startled, and in turn startles Claire and the viewer: It’s David, in full drag, makeup, motherly housecoat and all. You can’t help but suspect the worst – or at least the strangest, echoes of Norman Bates included – seeing David caught unaware, clad in his dead wife’s clothes, but Ozon plays it straight (no pun intended). After explaining his penchant for and history of cross-dressing, David and Claire eventually enter into a relationship that’s both supportive and decidedly risky, creating a new persona for David – dubbed “Virginia” – and straining Claire’s relationship with her husband Gilles (Personnaz).

It’s relatively easy to peg The New Girlfriend as another of Ozon’s uniformly fascinating psychological thrillers, but the script, adapted by the director from a short story by Brit author Ruth Rendell, has moments of modest humor amidst what might otherwise be a considerably grimmer tale. Duris and Demoustier are excellent in a pair of exceedingly complex and emotionally fractious roles, and Ozon’s supremely confident directorial hand and clear affection for these characters transforms The New Girlfriend from a could’ve-been psycho-thriller into a smart, humanistic examination of identity reshaped in the shadow of grief.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More François Ozon Films
Frantz
A bitter-sweet romance in the aftermath of WWI

Josh Kupecki, April 7, 2017

In the House
A pleasurably heady thriller from French auteur François Ozon.

Kimberley Jones, May 17, 2013

More by Marc Savlov
Glass
M. Night Shyamalan's meta-comic trilogy crashes into Earth with a dull splat

Jan. 18, 2019

Second Act
Lean In meets The Secret of My Success in workplace rom-com

Jan. 4, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

The New Girlfriend, François Ozon, Romain Duris, Anaïs Demoustier, Raphaël Personnaz, Isild Le Besco, Aurore Clément, Claudine Chatel

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle