The New Girlfriend and a secret
by Boyd van Hoeij
- Based on a story by Ruth Rendell, French director François Ozon’s latest film stars Anaïs Demoustier and Romain Duris
Again bypassing Venice, French director François Ozon took his latest film, The New Girlfriend [+see also:
interview: François Ozon
film profile], directly to Toronto. Its European premiere, meanwhile, is slated for the San Sebastian Film Festival, where he won the Golden Shell for In the House [+see also:
film profile] just two years ago.
The New Girlfriend is based on a story by Ruth Rendell, whose work has also been adapted on the Continent by Pedro Almodóvar, whose Live Flesh was based on one of her novels. Indeed, The New Girlfriend is Ozon’s most "Almodovarian" film to date, though rather than Live Flesh, it brings to mind The Skin I Live in [+see also:
interview: Pedro Almodóvar
film profile], even if Ozon’s film may not be quite as dark.
The film’s protagonist is Claire (Anaïs Demoustier, who appeared in Bird People [+see also:
interview: Pascale Ferran
film profile] at Cannes just a couple of months ago), who opens the film with a funeral speech for her childhood friend and best buddy, Laura (Isild Le Besco), who a short time ago had a baby with her husband, David (Romain Duris). A flashback montage that spans the girls’ childhood right up to Laura’s death is directed with supreme elegance and confidence by Ozon, who immediately fills the viewer in on everything he needs to know about these two girlfriends for life.
Before Laura died, Claire promised her that she would take care of David and the baby after she’s gone. However, after the funeral, she’s afraid to contact David again, until her own husband (Raphaël Personnaz) encourages her to check up on him. She then discovers he has a secret that’s been kept from view for a long time.
Traceable all the way back to Ozon’s first feature, Sitcom, the director has always found incredible pleasure in taking bourgeois lives and values, and generally undermining them or specifically querying them, and in his latest work, he’s still up to his old tricks. But like Almodóvar, Ozon has matured over time both as a filmmaker and as an intellectual voice. Whereas his first films were clearly disdainful of middle-class and upper-class lives and were meant to shock them out of their comfortable, if numbing, shells, his more recent takes on gender, sexuality and mourning are complex and enticing, and not without myriad surprises.
Also a surprise is the fact that Ozon and Duris, two of the hardest-working people in French cinema, had never worked together before – though they seem such a natural fit in The New Girlfriend that it would be surprising if they didn’t pair up again soon. In the less splashy and arguably even more difficult role, Demoustier also impresses, suggesting once more that she’s one of France’s most talented young actresses.