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  New Girlfriend, The Her Ideal Woman
Year: 2014
Director: François Ozon
Stars: Romain Duris, Anaïs Demoustier, Raphaël Personnaz, Isild Le Besco, Aurore Clément, Jean-Claude Bolle-Reddat, Bruno Pérard, Claudine Chatel, Anita Gillier, Alex Fondja, Jonathan Louis, Zita Hanrot, Pierre Fabiani, Mayline Dubois, Anna Monedière
Genre: Comedy, Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) has been left bereft by the death of her best friend Laura (Isild De Besco), for they had been inseparable ever since meeting in school when they were seven years of age. They grew up together, playing as children, carving their name in the bark of a local tree, and as they grew they suffered along with one another with each girl's boyfriend troubles, consoling their pal when they had their heart broken, but supporting too when it seemed their romances were going to blossom. Laura married David (Romain Duris) and they had a baby, while Claire married Gilles (Raphaël Personnaz), but then tragedy struck when Laura fell terminally ill. What can her best mate do now?

Well, there's a way of replacing that void in her heart, but it's not going to be the easiest thing to accept in this adaptation of a Ruth Rendell short story from the eighties that attracted the attention of director François Ozon, and it had to be said the subject matter suited him down to the ground. After a nicely assembled montage of Claire and Laura's life together which ends in the latter's funeral, the remaining half of that bond is at a loss, and is reluctant to visit David because he represents too many memories she cannot deal with at the moment. However, Gilles is concerned about him left all alone with only the baby for company and persuades his wife that a visit would be the best course of action.

It is here, barely ten minutes in, that we get the twist as Claire wanders into the house on hearing the crying infant and stumbles upon her being fed - by a woman. When she turns around, Claire is shocked to see this is no woman, this is David all dressed up, yes, he's a transvestite and nobody except Laura knew since he had promised to keep it within the confines of their home and never venture out in ladies' garments. David pleads with Claire to keep the secret, but it'll take some getting used to; however, she is sufficiently intrigued, not to say worried over this reaction to Laura's death, that she opts to stand by David, giving his alter ego the moniker Virginia so as not to alert Gilles.

You can see what is happening here, in spite of it being a complex state of affairs, as the Virginia persona is a replacement for the deceased, both for Claire who needs a new female friend, and for David who essentially becomes his own wife to compensate him in his grief. This could have been a dejected yarn of depressed folks flailing in their loss, yet Ozon managed quite a bit of humour thanks to the liberating activity of dolling yourself up that many women can appreciate, and some men, like David, can too. When the pair head off to the shopping mall to check out the clothes and makeup, it's far more fun than anything in Pretty Woman, and the characters' enjoyment of their newfound shared interest is infectious. That said, the complications are not far away.

What could Claire tell Gilles, for example? He notices she is far more energetic in the bedroom now she has taken to visiting David, lustily achieving orgasms while Gilles is left wanting, which brings into play the sexual angle: is Claire getting off on these gender adventures? She never thought about Laura in that way, but now as Virginia embodies the perfect mesh of male and female she finds herself more open to an amorous connection with Virginia, so does this mean she is a lesbian? Ozon is playful with these themes, and while there are scenes of heartache the generally positive approach wins out, refreshing when in other filmmakers' hands the transvestite could have been subjected to social ostracism or even violence. It may have been a shade too one note for its length, and the lantern-jawed Duris was not quite convincing as a woman, but he and Demoustier enjoyed genuine chemistry that smoothed over many of the hitches a tricky situation as depicted could have fallen prey to. Offbeat, certainly, but refreshing too. Music by Philippe Rombi.

Aka: Une nouvelle amie

[Metrodome's Region 2 DVD has no extras, but the film looks and sounds fine, Katy Perry booms out quite the thing.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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