Monday 15 April 2019

The New Girlfriend - 2014 film review

Ruth Rendell was an exceptionally gifted writer of short stories as well as novels, and I read her story "The New Girlfriend" a long time ago and enjoyed it. Only recently did I discover that it was filmed five years ago by the talented French director Francois Ozon. Turning a short story into a film is often problematic, because of the need to stretch out a rather slender storyline. Ozon wrote the screenplay himself, and solved the problem by creating an erotic drama that borrows from the genre of crime and suspense but does not really belong to it.

Anais Demoustier plays Claire, who forms an intense friendship with another young girl, Laura (Isild Le Besco). The two girls meet handsome young men whom they marry, but they remain close. Laura gives birth to a daughter, but falls ill and dies. Claire vows to take care of Laura's husband David (Romain Duris) and the little girl, but is startled when she calls at their home and finds David dressed as a woman.

Once she has overcome her initial shock and distaste Claire becomes increasingly drawn to David, or at least to his alter ego Virginia. The plot thickens, and so do the sexual complications. As a reviewer on says, Ozon "transforms what might have been a tonal nightmare in other hands into a wildly entertaining work, one that manages to be simultaneously funny, touching, slightly unnerving and undeniably sexy to behold, regardless of where your predilections may lie."

Some reviewers have termed the film "Hitchcockian", but although I can see why they say this, given the tricky way in which the story develops, it's a misleading description. I was expecting a crime film, and it took me a while to realise that Ozon (although he's worked in the crime genre, and is clearly fascinated by it) was here going in a different direction. But once I'd understood what he was trying to do, I was impressed.

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