Tuesday, September 15, 2015

François Ozon adapts Ruth Rendell in cross-dressing dram-com, THE NEW GIRLFRIEND

The first ten minutes of THE NEW GIRLFRIEND -- the latest in a long line of very interesting and mostly successful (to one degree or another) films by French auteur François Ozon -- are so witty, entertaining and compact that they give you something like the entire experience of Beaches done in delightful movie shorthand. These few minutes also features two stunningly beautiful young girls (M. Ozon, below, is very handy at discovering gorgeous young performers of either gender).

These young actresses -- Mayline Dubois and Anna Monedière -- morph into two beautiful and talented adult counterparts, Isild Le Besco (below, left) and Anaïs Demoustier (below, right). It's wonderful to see the former on screen again, while the latter is quickly garnering quite a lengthy resume of smart roles, well performed). The two play best friends since childhood, and the untimely death of one of them leaves the other, as well as the widower and his infant child, bereft. Normally, the result of all this would make for high drama or maybe middle-brow melodrama. But since the story comes from a Ruth Rendell novel adapted by Ozon, there clearly will be something different in store. And given what we know of Rendell's work, there may be some murder or crime involved.

Well, forget about that -- because Ozon himself evidently did. It's a red herring at best, and one of the critical quotes in the film's advertisement that references Hitchcock seems almost willfully wrongheaded. What we have instead is one of Rendell's journeys into the psyche of an odd and misplaced person -- this time a man whose greatest happiness comes from cross-dressing as a woman.

This does not, I should warn, have anything to do with homosexuality per se, as our gentleman still still prefers the ladies, nor does he appear to want to make any move toward transgendering. His cock, as we see in one particular scene, is still very much on active and pleasurable duty. What the film explores instead -- via its leading man Romain Duris, shown above and below, who gives another of his probing, insightful performances -- is the nature of cross-dressing: where it comes from, what it entails, and how the doer, as well as the world around him, must adapt to this new "stance."

All this is interesting -- alternately fun and unsettling -- for a time. Yet the movie begins to drag, as the back-and-forth situations and banter between David and his female side Virginia (M. Duris) and his late wife's best friend (Ms Demoustier) goes hot then cold, then hot again.

The performances are fine, as far as they are allowed to go, but because we also become a bit involved with the late woman's parents (Aurore Clément, above, right, plays her mom) and Demoustier's hubby (the gorgeous Raphaël Personnaz, shown below, and somewhat wasted in this role), we never get to spend the time necessary to probe David/Virginia deeply enough.

Still, the movie is never dull, even if coincidence plays a bit too large a role in all of it. And Ozon's explorations into the lives of the "other" and the perhaps thin line that separates what's normal from what's not -- here particularly noteworthy in a drag night club in which a thoughtful and poignant song is sung -- nearly always prove worth experiencing.

If this is one of the writer/director's lesser and more obvious efforts (for my taste In the House is by far his most mature and exceptional movie), it's still worth a viewing, especially for fans of this singular auteur.

The New Girlfriend -- from Cohen Media Group, in French with English subtitles, and running 108 minutes -- opens this Friday, September 18, in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema , the Bow Tie Chelsea, and the Landmark Sunshine Cinema; in Los Angeles at The Landmark; and in San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Seattle -- with a limited national rollout across the country in the weeks to come. Click here and scroll down to see currently scheduled dates, cities & theaters.

Update: Cohen Media Group will release the Blu-ray 
and DVD of The New Girlfriend on January 26, 2016

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