The New Girlfriend is French filmmaking at its best

The New Girlfriend (Une Nouvelle Amie), a French drama from acclaimed director and screenwriter François Ozon, had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014. It has received several international award nominations and won best picture at Spain’s San Sebastián film festival.

The New Girlfriend is loosely based on the 15-page crime thriller of the same name by English author Ruth Rendell. In Ozon’s hands the story becomes a deftly nuanced story about self-discovery, gender fluidity, unexpected friendship and love.

The film opens with Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) delivering a eulogy at a funeral. Through several quick flashbacks we learn that the service is for her lifelong friend, Laura, who died shortly after giving birth to a daughter. The story then follows a bereft Claire and Laura’s equally devastated husband David (Romain Duris).

Dropping by David’s house unexpectedly, Claire finds a strange woman feeding the baby. It turns out to be David, wearing his dead wife’s clothes. Initially, he says that Laura’s outfits soothe his infant child and then he reveals that she knew he was into cross-dressing. The encounter launches Claire and David on an unexpected journey as their relationship evolves, taking several, often surprising twists and turns along the way.

Steve Rose of The Guardian describes The New Girlfriend in his review as a “smooth blurring of bourgeois boundaries between gay/straight, masculine/feminine and possibly sane/insane.” Ozon manages to find humour yet remains respectful in David’s sometimes awkward, sometimes exhilarating exploration of femininity, and as Rose points out, “Duris’s svelte good looks, in particular, have never quite been used to such disarming effect.”

Romain Duris is best known for his performance as Xavier, the French exchange student in the films “L’Auberge Espagnole” and “Russian Dolls”. He was nominated for both a Cesar (French equivalent of the Oscar) and a Lumières award (French equivalent of the Golden Globe) for The New Girlfriend.

Relative newcomer Anaïs Demoustier has proven to be no slouch either, having received numerous awards and nominations for her previous work.

François Ozon, whose work spans nearly three decades, is known for his wit and unconstrained views on sexuality. He achieved critical acclaim with his films 8 Femmes and Swimming Pool. Gay characters are often featured in his films. The World Public Library considers him to be “one of the most important French directors in the new ‘New Wave’ in French cinema.”

The New Girlfriend is in French with English subtitles. It screens at 6 pm Sunday, April 17 at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre.

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