The New Girlfriend – Review by Frank L.
Directed by Francis Ozon
Alfred Kinsey of the Kinsey Repost (1948) fame wrote subsequently “Sexual behavior is either normal or abnormal, socially acceptable or unacceptable, heterosexual or homosexual; and many persons do not want to believe that there are gradations in these matters from one to the other extreme.” Francis Ozon traverses the beliefs of “the many persons” in this sensitively yet at times hilariously told story of sexual fulfilment arising out of the death of a young mother, Laura, aged a mere 27 years. At the funeral from the altar steps her life-long best friend Claire (Anais Demoustier) vows to look after her husband David (Romain Durris) and their infant daughter Lucie.
She is committed to that vow. However the fulfilment of it leads her deep into the gradations about which Kinsey spoke. She enters into a world of cross dressing which requires her to address her own complex sexual emotions in relation to David, the memories of her best friend Laura, her relationship with her husband, Gilles (Raphael Personnaz), and most pressingly to Virginia the person who David becomes when he is cross-dressed. The enigma of David/ Virginia which is the core of the story is the catalyst to unsettle Claire as she must address also her relationship with Gilles who is on the Kinsey scale of sexual desire a zero or in common parlance a 100% red-blooded, heterosexual man.
Ozon tells the story with a beautiful panache. He is concerned about the fate of David/Virginia, Claire and Gilles. He is empathetic to the plight of straight David as he handles his need to appear as a woman. He makes the incomprehension of Claire totally credible and also the pleasure she finds within herself in being in the company of Virginia. Where her own sexuality lies becomes a question which inevitably arises in her marriage to Gilles.
The photography of the piece is intensely tactile particularly of the body with a special emphasis on the lips. Their sensitivity in close up is entrancing. The acting of Romain Durris as David but more particularly as Virginia is a great pleasure to watch. As David, he is a little bit nervous, fragile almost but as Virginia he is confident as he is in the place where he belongs as a man dressed as a woman.
And to boot he is a straight man, his sexual interests lie only with women. Anais Demoustier as Claire has an extraordinarily difficult role to play. She does so with an understated sensibility. There are few young actors who could play this complex, innocent, woman who is entering uncertainly on a rarely trodden journey. The chemistry between Virginia and Claire makes this story warm and generous. It is a demonstration of how complex are the arrangements in which human love may overcome what may seem to be insurmountable.
At times hilariously funny, at all times beautifully shot, “The New Girlfriend” (probably its original French title “Une Nouvelle Amie” is more apt) is a celebration of human sexual diversity about which McKinsey spoke over a half a century ago and which is only now beginning to be confidently celebrated. This movie is a triumphant voice proclaiming that diversity with assuredness and elan.
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