The New Girlfriend (2 stars)

The New Girlfriend

Glasgow Film Festival: Jumbled, Ruth Rendell-inspired drama from François Ozon

François Ozon’s latest feature takes Ruth Rendell’s short story, 'The New Girlfriend', as its jumping-off point. But fans of Rendell’s gripping thrillers won’t find much stylistic likeness in this plodding drama, which is buoyed by its performances.

Laura (Isild Le Besco) dies at a tragically young age, leaving behind her husband David (Romain Duris) and their newborn daughter Lucie. Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) – Laura‘s lifelong best friend – is distraught, depressed and compelled to take days off work. On one of these days, she stops by to check up on David, and discovers him dressed as a woman.

As he begs her to keep his secret, they develop a slow friendship; Claire blows hot and cold, alternately encouraging David to embrace his feminine identity, ‘Virginia’, then commanding he repress it as their relationship becomes more intimate.

It’s thanks to Duris and Demoustier that The New Girlfriend skips along, though Raphaël Personnaz makes an impression too as Claire’s pointedly straight husband Gilles. Despite his arresting turn as a piano-playing thug in Jacques Audiard’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Duris has largely failed to break away from the hapless romantic leads he’s portrayed in films like Heartbreaker and Cédric Klapisch’s Spanish Apartment trilogy. Here, he’s game for his feminine transformation and, although he overdoes it on occasion, his emotional turmoil is affecting.

In past efforts – 8 Women, Swimming Pool, even the overblown camp of Potiche – director Ozon has showed he’s a master at disrupting the banal comfort of upper middle class life. The New Girlfriend fits into this oeuvre quite comfortably; David’s burgeoning, scandalous femininity is largely at odds with the immaculately lawned mini-mansions and country piles that feature in his life.

But the film’s tone doesn’t sit right: the melancholic score – by long-time Ozon-collaborator Philippe Rombi – overlays the kind of unsettling atmosphere you might expect from a Rendell adaptation, but this menace isn’t reflected in the story that unfolds. It’s less a thriller and more a tale of awakening identity: when Ozon embraces these moments – Virginia’s first public outing; a revelatory night out at a gay club – the film feels joyous. The rest of the time, it’s a bit of a dull jumble.

Screening on Sat 21 Feb as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2015. General release from Fri 22 May.

The New Girlfriend | Trailer

The New Girlfriend

  • 2 stars
  • 2014
  • France
  • 1h 47min
  • 15
  • Directed by: François Ozon
  • Cast: Anaïs Demoustier, Romain Duris, Raphaël Personnaz

A subversive exploration of love, desire, gender and sexuality. When Claire's best friend dies she promises to look after her widower and young baby. When she arrives to fulfill her promise she makes a surprising discovery about the husband of her late friend.