The New Girlfriend
Directed by François Ozon
Starring Anaïs Demoustier, Romain Duris, Raphaël Personnaz, Isild Le Besco and Aurore Clément
A young woman makes a surprising discovery about the husband of her late best friend.
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★★★½ review by Jonathan White on Letterboxd
TIFF 2014 Film #5
Reason for pick: director François Ozon, Swimming Pool.
I see that the IMDB and TMDB descriptions of The New Girlfriend are completely spoiler free, and so will be this review. For anyone considering seeing it who reads reviews, tread cautiously, as an important plot development that’s only revealed near the end of the first act is sure to be spoilered.
I’ll simply say that Ozon takes on a subject that is fraught with danger at every turn. There are so many minefields that only the bravest dare. I’m happy to say that with the help of his two incredible leads, he navigates it confidently and triumphantly.
At the centre of the story is a complex relationship, one that is burdened with memories, projection, secrets, and secret desires. You can see many outcomes, and hope it turns out to be the lesser of evils. The story is told from the perspective of a women who has just lost her best friend, and who is coming to terms with her loss and grief. Anaïs Demoustier is an absolute wonder in the role, her subtle facial expressions able to telegraph her feelings without the need for, or often contrasting, with the dialogue. It’s through her eyes that we see the story. Romain Duris, as the husband of the recently deceased, arguably, has the more challenging role, but he completely rises to the occasion.
The film tonally shifts between drama, friendship, romance, erotica, and even a dash of romcom. My only issue with the film is I felt jarred by how quickly the lighter aspects were introduced after the heavyweight drama of first act. It quickly settles down afterwards, though, and the pacing is smooth, moving effortlessly between shades. There’s a Sword of Damocles that hangs over your head the entire time, and I’m not sure if this benefits the story or not, as you’re always uneasy, but, for this particular story it’s unavoidable, so you just learn to live with it.
I don’t know if I can quite afford it gem status, but it certainly is worth a watch for the performances alone.
★★★★ review by Laura Raud on Letterboxd
I did not know a man could be such a beautiful man and woman at the same time.
★★★★ review by Milez Das on Letterboxd
A story told with delicacy with romance, humor and transition. The New Girlfriend is something beautiful and sweet.
Claire is finding difficulty to go to her best friend Laura's house since her death. She just can't cope with the fact that Laura has gone. One day she decides to finally go there as she has promised Laura that she will take of her daughter and look after her husband David. But to Claire's surprise she finds David transform into someone he has long desired to be.
Directed by François Ozon, the subject chosen by him is very delicate. The movie is about a person coming out to the world but first to Claire. For Claire it is an unknown territory, she herself has to come to terms about all this. Claire helps David and David, Claire.
The movie flourishes with two incredible performances from Romain Duris and Anaïs Demoustier. The facial expressions from both of them are just perfect. Showing the emotions they are going through at a particular moment from the smiles to the love the feel for each other. The comfortable thing they both feel when they let themselves be themselves.
Romain transforms himself to something more beautiful and nourishing the character. The scene at the bar where the song A Woman is sang is one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen.
The New Girlfriend is a delicately told story about sexuality, acceptance, love desire and transformation. It handles the serious situations very well, the first act of the movie is beautifully told. Ozon nurtures the story and molds it with love. Romain Duris and Anaïs Demoustier are just perfect in their roles and you can just feel everything from their expressions.
Also, I am a big fan of Anaïs Demoustier!!!
★★★½ review by JC on Letterboxd
Anything new from director Francois Ozon is a must-see for me at this point. The three I've seen so far - In The House, Swimming Pool and Young & Beautiful - have ranged from incredible to just okay, but all have been enjoyably unique films, to say the least. There's a sexual energy to them with captivating plots running through, almost noir in nature. The New Girlfriend was no different.
I can't decide whether I like Romain Duris or not, but dammit if he isn't interesting to watch. His Don Draper persona in Populaire didn't work for me - mainly because he came off too smug and had more of a sniveling weasel presence opposed to a romantically charming one. Well here he plays David, a recently widowed father when his wife Claire tragically passes away. Claire's longtime friend Linda (Anais Demoustier), married to Gilles (Raphael Personnaz), made a pact to always take care of Claire's husband and newborn child. It is during a routine visit where Linda discovers quite the secret about David - he likes to dress up as a woman (Virginia), acting as both mother and father towards his son.
The film, as expected, gets into some strange and uncomfortable territory - which particularly surprised my friend who tagged along having never seen an Ozon film before. Yet she really liked it and talked about it for days afterwards - and I knew that would happen! Behind all that perverse sexuality and a bizarre tangled web of a narrative that gets constructed, there's heart. There's empathy. There's complex characters that are in some way relatable. Ozon is (for the most part) so great at walking that line and knowing just when to bring the story back down to ground level. Because of that, the performers he brings to tell these stories all deliver in spades and hold nothing back, I believe because of the trust they have in him. They know the end result will be something special.
While the subject matter alone, for me, made the film difficult to fully immerse myself in and kept me at a distance, this was still very much an Ozon film - with shades of Almodovar and of course, Billy Wilder's classic Some Like It Hot. The sharp transition from the opening act was also a bit jarring and uneven, but by the time the film gets going it's nearly forgotten. While not as strong as Swimming Pool or In The House, it was still very enjoyable and took a typical Hollywood story to daring places. If you come for Ozon, you get what you came for.
★★★★ review by Vanina on Letterboxd
I am incredibly predisposed to like this film: I am a huge fan of François Ozon's, my love for Romain Duris knows no bounds, and this features Camille Saint-Saëns' 'Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix' at a pivotal moment in the film.
I greatly admire Jonathan's review for not revealing any of the plot but still getting to the essence of the film.
While I can't follow in Jonathan's footsteps exactly because the poster gives much of the drama away, this is a film that has to be experienced. I found it a difficult film at times, but the reluctant friendship between Duris' character and the incredible Anaïs Demoustier is a thing of beauty, with both of them working through their grief after the death of their respective wife and life-long best friend. Although the film sometimes dips its toe into the expected clichés, it's quick to throw your expectations off-balance, causing you to re-evaluate where you think the film is headed throughout the film.
The film made me think about how you get others to understand your situation, how you translate your reality to another person's viewpoint. Do you sweat the small stuff to ensure every nuance is clear, running the risk of completely alienating another person when they don't get it, or do you try to fit your truth into another person's framework in order to gain acceptance and work from there?
I love how this film externalises something so instinctive and intrinsic to a person.
Also, bless François Ozon for casting himself as the man in the cinema.
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