The New Girlfriend

September, 2015, Drama

 The New Girlfriend

Writer/director Francois Ozon likes to make movies about women with a special focus on various elements of their sexuality. In the past dozen years, his films (The Swimming Pool, 8 Women,Young & Beautiful) have explored characters who are often unaware of their appetites and that confusion forms the basic plot device in this sympathetic examination of cross-dressing.

The film begins with a brief history of the intense childhood relationship between Claire and her best friend Laura. In a well- designed flashback, the audience learns that before her death from an undisclosed disease, Laura married an attractive man named David with whom she had a daughter. Making a deathbed promise to her friend, Claire promises to look after David and his baby girl, a decision firmly supported by Claire’s husband Gilles.

Calling unexpectedly on David at his home shortly thereafter, Claire finds him dressed in some of Laura’s clothes as he feeds their baby. Claire is horrified, but honors both David’s request to keep his secret and to assist him in buying better fitting women’s cloths. Much to her puzzled amazement, Claire grows attracted to the feminine David and gives him the name Virginia. They shop and dine together, finally spending a weekend at David’s country home – all this without any overt sexual interaction because of David/Virginia’s insistence that he’s simply a heterosexual who harbors a longtime passion for cross-dressing. 

Yet repeated assignations lead to a failed seduction after which David/Virginia is seriously injured in a suicide attempt thinly disguised as automobile accident. Faced with the prospect of her putative lover’s death or persistent coma, Claire brings about David’s recovery by encouraging him to identify completely as a woman. The film leaps forward some seven years the two of them begin a life together.

As David, 41 year old French actor Roman Duris (Heartbreaker, The Big Picture) not only makes an astounding physical transition as Virginia, but an emotional one as well. Duris creates a character comfortable with his sexuality yet sensitive to conventional cultural views. Indeed, Girlfriend’s primary focus lies in an examination of Claire’s response to David/Virginia; why is she attracted to this man only and to the extent that he chooses to express himself as a woman?

Ozon’s visually erotic style gets ample opportunity to express itself here, but the libidinous atmosphere of the movie aside, the director and his star make an effectively understated case for the sympathetic treatment of those whose sexuality finds expression outside what’s culturally considered “straight”.

The Verdict?  A deliberately lubricious examination of an issue marked by a growing generational divide. 

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