It’s a tough task discussing The New Girlfriend in any great detail without divulging aspects that should be kept under wraps until seen for one’s self, but what can be said about progressive French director Francois Ozon’s latest effort is that it presents a tastefully amusing study of sexual identity and lingering desire.
When the film’s protagonist Claire (Demoustier) loses her best friend whom she’s known since childhood – a fact revealed to us through a wonderfully constructed opening sequence – she vows to care for the grieving husband and newborn baby left behind in the aftermath of the tragedy. What follows is a startling revelation that leads both Claire and widower David (Duris) down an unexpected journey of self-discovery and, ultimately, acceptance.
The New Girlfriend could have easily come across as crass and absurd with someone else at the helm, but Ozon’s careful handling of the on-screen action ensures there is an abundance of intelligence and purpose throughout. This is a film that successfully grasps the meaning of black comedy: nothing is included for the sake of a cheap laugh, nor are the inner struggles of David and Claire ever taken for granted – yet we can still draw great amusement from their interactions and the initial unfamiliarity of the situation. Much of this is down to the two leads’ brilliantly understated performances, with Duris impressing in particular as his character undergoes a liberating transformation.
Where The New Girlfriend falls short is with the majority of its final act, which, whether intentionally so or not, feels at odds with the rest of the film; when compared to how everything plays out beforehand, the last few scenes are uncharacteristically and agonisingly formulaic. While it’d be harsh to suggest this leaves a sour taste in the mouth or ruins the spectacle as a whole, it certainly dampens the enjoyment.
In any case, this is a strangely powerful piece of cinema that manages to utilise humour without compromising its emotional core.
Review by Ben McCarthy
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