Actors: Romain Duris, Anais Demoustier, Raphael Personnaz
Director: Francois Ozon
Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, NTSC, Widescreen
Number of discs: 1
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: Cohen Media Group
Release Date: January 26, 2016
Run Time: 108 minutes
The way that The New Girlfriend speeds through the film’s exposition with a cleverly stylistic and dialogue-free opening sequence, I was certain that filmmaker François Ozon (The Swimming Pool, 8 Women) was rushing in a specific direction. Instead, The New Girlfriend wanders aimlessly throughout a number of different tones and ideas, never committing to any one direction enough to fully deliver. Moments of the narrative seem to have the social sensitivity and relevance of a movie like The Danish Girl, though the peculiarities of sexuality are nearly turned into tools of ominous suspense and mystery, all wrapped up in a series of scenes that awkwardly shift tones between comedy and melodrama.
The film begins with a lifelong friendship between two schoolmates, Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) and Laura (Isild Le Besco), ending with a tragic death that separates them. Laura dies shortly after childbirth, leaving her husband David (Romain Duris) to care for their baby alone. Claire is also married, though the love for her husband (Raphaël Personnaz) seems secondary to that for her departed friend. While mourning this loss, Claire surprises David with a visit and discovers that he has begun dressing in Laura’s old clothing. Though he claims it to be for the benefit of their child, it gradually becomes clear that David takes some personal pleasure out of being a woman.
As the only one who knows his secret, Claire becomes an accomplice to David’s fetish, unraveling her own repressed sexual desires along the way. Much of this is conveyed through the subtleties of Demoustier’s reactionary performance, along with occasional fantasy sequences that are somehow blunt while simultaneously remaining slightly ambiguous. David’s transformation is at the center of the narrative, but it is Claire’s journey which fills the film with nuance. Unfortunately, despite Claire being the most engaging character in the narrative, her story feels sadly underdeveloped. Not only does she never vocalize her true desires in the same way David does, but the troubles of her own marriage are never addressed, swept under the rug in a contrived “happily-ever-after” ending skipping over any scenes of resolution.
The Blu-ray disc comes with a behind-the-scenes making-of featurette, along with 10 deleted scenes. Perhaps the structure of the narrative would have changed with the additional footage and an alternate edit of the film, but they seem more of an indicator that there was difficulty constructing the final product. Also included is the film’s theatrical trailer.
Entertainment Value: 5.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10
Historical Significance: 4/10