Starring Romain Duris and Anaïs Demoustier, François Ozon’s The New Girlfriend is an intriguing film with an unexpected central premise, but one that ultimately slides into the absurd.
A bold opening that flashes through important events in the lives of Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) and her best friend Laura (Isild Le Besco), immediately sets the tone for The New Girlfriend (Une nouvelle amie, 2014) – the latest film from François Ozon. Ranging from their childhood to their adult lives, the happy moments of this sequence turn suddenly mournful as we watch Laura’s health deteriorate and she becomes gravely ill. Yet instead of treading familiar dramatic ground, Ozon’s film takes a turn for the bizarre when the grieving Claire makes a shocking discovery about Laura’s now widowed husband (Romain Duris).
As strange as it may first seem, this unexpected reveal paves the way for an intriguing film that is essentially a clever discussion on gender issues and identity – and it is this that makes The New Girlfriend stand out from other mainstream dramas. Loosely based on a short story by author Ruth Rendell, Ozon’s unflinching script creates a thought-provoking film that is at times injected with a delicious sense of humour and also a genuine poignancy, both elements that ground the slightly fanciful tale.
Romain Duris also lends gravity to proceedings in a superb role that becomes the driving force of the entire film’s plot, his magnetic central turn holding your attention throughout. However Anaïs Demoustier impresses just as much with a subtle, touching performance that is just as powerful as Duris’ outlandish one. Acting as our way into that bizarre story, it is later on in the film that Demoustier truly impresses as Claire ever so slowly starts to transform her way of thinking, unlocking aspects of herself that she never knew were there.
For all these positive aspects though, there is something that doesn’t quite sit right with Ozon’s film. Although it certainly makes for an interesting watch, The New Girlfriend never really soars where it should, Ozon’s script deftly handling the gender issues but never really being as groundbreaking as it could be. Similarly, Ozon’s direction stands out in parts, such as the aforementioned opening and a morbid yet touching dressing sequence at a funeral parlour, but he never really lifts it to new or exciting heights. While both these faults could be forgiven, the one thing that truly spoils the film is that it is often swimming in melodrama, sometimes so much that it drowns out all those other elements that keep the story believable. Indeed, it can overpower these so much that the central concept does sadly seem a little ridiculous at times – the very opposite of what this film needs.
Never reaching the heights of Ozon’s best (5×2 (2004), In the House (2012)), The New Girlfriend neither hits the depths of his worst (Angel (2007)). With a central idea that is handled well but that can often slide into the absurd, this makes for an interesting watch, but is wholly forgettable. Had that overpowering melodrama been balanced out then this might have been a truly powerful cinematic achievement. Instead it can sometimes have the unfortunate feeling of a made-for-TV film. As such you’d rarely want to visit this more than once, even to see those brilliant performances from Romain Duris and Anaïs Demoustier again.
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