The New Girlfriend
This is a tantalizing movie that unfortunately failed to realize its potential.
A French film in English subtitles written and directed by François Ozon, The New Girlfriend both tantalizes and disappoints. David (Romain Duris) is a recent widower with a 9-month old child who has a fixation on dressing like a woman. When discovered by Claire (Anaïs Demoustier), his deceased wife’s longtime best friend, he seeks to keep his cross-dressing a secret for as long as possible.
During the first third of the film, Director Ozon teases the audience with a number of possibilities that provoke genuine interest. Initially thinking that David is a bit of a pervert, Claire gradually develops an interest in appearing with him in public when he dresses as a woman. As she accompanies him while keeping it a secret from her own husband, you are left wondering if Claire is trying to fulfill an unsatisfied sexual attraction to her deceased friend.
In a sense, this movie is really a story about a transgendered man who has yet to decide on an operation. While you have some obvious sympathy for him as he struggles, he regrettably appears to be little more than an extremely shallow individual who makes you yearn for the upcoming transgender film entitled The Danish Girl.
As I watched this movie, I couldn’t help but recall Howard Hawks’s film, I Was a Male War Bride (1949). Cary Grant stars as a French officer who falls in love with a female American Army officer played by Ann Sheridan, and they soon marry. Taking place initially during World War II, Grant seeks to return to the States with his wife only to learn that legislation known as the War Brides’ Act applies only to female spouses.
While The New Girlfriend lacks the spontaneity and humor of I Was a Male War Bride, it did cause me to remember Grant’s homosexuality as you see him appear in drag. And for those of you who think I am being unfair to this great actor, take the time to read his wonderful biography written by Marc Eliot.
In any event, Mr. Ozon’s film is a reminder of why we should be thankful to live in the 21st century. At least if men dress like women, we don’t burn them at the stake as was done with Joan of Arc in 1431. Among other things, she was condemned to be burned at the stake at the age of 19 for wearing male clothing both during and after battle. You would like to think that she would live to old age if that poor young woman was alive today.