Cast: Anaïs Demoustier, Romain Duris, Raphaël Personnaz, Isild Le Besco, Aurore Clément, Jean-Claude Bolle-Reddat
Director: François Ozon
Writer: François Ozon
This is a film that grabbed my attention right from the start. The opening shot is of a young, beautiful woman. She is wearing a wedding dress and we hear wedding music being played on the organ. We see make-up being applied to her face in preparation for the occasion. She stares passively towards the camera until a hand reaches out and closes her eyelids. Only then do we realise what is happening. This is not her wedding day, it is the day of her funeral. In less than thirty seconds Ozon has already presented one of the recurring themes and motifs of this film, the idea of appearance. He has shown us how things are not necessarily what they appear to be and the effect that appearances can have on our perceptions, two ideas that will recur throughout this film.
The funeral is that of Laura, the childhood friend of Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) and wife of David (Romain Duris). Claire stands before Laura’s loved ones and talks about the friendship that they had. The film presents a series of scenes that recount the life that they shared starting from when they first met at early childhood. We are taken through Claire’s most cherished memories of Laura from the blood pact they made to stay with each other forever to standing at each other’s weddings to holding Laura’s hand during her final moments as she lay in the hospital bed. From the moment they first met Claire and Laura have been with each other every single step of the way through pain and joy, through pleasure and strife, through love and heartbreak. And now it’s over. Nevertheless Claire promises to keep the vow that she made to Laura all those years ago by watching over David and their infant daughter Lucie.
Laura’s death ends up bringing Claire and David closer in the most unexpected way possible. She is completely and utterly devastated by Laura’s passing and becomes inconsolable. Not even her husband Gills (Raphaël Personnaz) can get through to her or provide her with any sort of comfort. As differences and problems start surfacing between them, Claire resolves to honour her promise to Laura and shows up at David’s house to help him care for the baby. There she discovers a shocking revelation that staggers and astonishes her. I wish I could go into more detail than that but it would ruin the element of surprise. It is a revelation that changes Claire’s entire world and which will go on to have a resounding effect on her and on David for the rest of their lives.
In the wake of this revelation Claire and David start to spend more time together and grow closer to each other. This secret that they share could have potentially volatile and dire consequences if it should ever be discovered and so it is one that they cannot ever allow anyone else, not even those closest to them, to know. However it is a secret that they can share with each other and so they meet up regularly to partake in activities that enable David to embrace his secret self. It is their mutual love for Laura that unites them as they try to help each other overcome their grief. They must also face the themes of love, sexuality and desire as they confront their feelings for Laura and for each other. Demoustier gives a wonderfully delicate performance as the graceful Claire. She switches seamlessly between comedy and drama whenever the film calls for it and perfectly complements the vulnerable and conflicted nature of Claire’s character. Duris gives an astonishing performance as David in his journey to find his hidden self. There are two separate sides to this character, one restrained and the other free, that he portrays with a perfect balance of humour and heart. It takes a very talented actor to give a performance that is both hilarious and heartbreaking. The chemistry that the two share is palpable and they compliment each other beautifully.
With The New Girlfriend François Ozon has put together a film that is sensitive, moving and witty. He expertly shifts between comedy to drama and provides an abundance of both. The story he crafts is cleverly original and the audience never quite knows what to expect next. It is a story about two characters who come together to help each other overcome a devastating loss and to try and find their identities. They find themselves to be lost without Laura who served as an anchor to them both. Her absence has left a hole that they each must fill. For all of its eccentricities or, as some viewers might see it, absurdities, this film remains at its core a heartwarming story about love, loss, and life.