Anyone familiar with the work of French writer/director Francois Ozon knows to expect a certain level of twisted characters and crazy plots in any of his films. The latest, “The New Girlfriend,” does not mark any kind of departure for him. Transvestism and transgender issues are the main eccentricity here, in ways both enlightening and tiresome.
Romain Duris’ title character, Virginia, was known to the world as David, husband to Laura and father Lucie. But when Laura dies young, it leaves one grieving spouse – not to mention a best friend, Anais Demoustier’s Claire, equally devastated. Each takes on the grief of Laura’s passing in their own way, though David’s is perhaps a little less conventional. He always had a taste for cross-dressing (even letting Laura know), and he uses his wife’s death to further explore a female alter ego to provide the now-missing maternal care. Claire stumbles into David in full Virginia guise quite by accident, and she fully welcomes and encourages him to explore these repressed personality elements in the wake of Laura’s passing.
Virginia quickly becomes more than just a surrogate mother for Lucy, developing into a woman in her own right – not to mention a good friend to Claire and her husband Gilles. The sexual confusion and gender-bending antics that result from embracing the Virginia persona are not exactly coherent treatises on trans issues, however. Such is not a requirement for Ozon, but his blasé attitude towards deeper consideration of self-identity makes “The New Girlfriend” feel a little too flippant in some key moments.
Ozon is at his best when the events on screen reflect how each character looks to fill the void left by Laura in their lives. Claire needs a best friend. David needs a parenting partner and a lover. Try as each person might, neither can quite function as a fulfilling facsimile. These moments of unexpected mourning amidst resuming normalcy provide “The New Girlfriend” with its real dramatic heft. B /