Here’s one you haven’t seen before. Still grieving the death of her BFF Laura, who died shortly after giving birth to a girl, Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) visits Laura’s widower, David (Romain Duris), and finds him wearing Laura’s clothes. David explains he’s always been into cross-dressing, except while he was married to Laura; and whatever he’s wearing, he’s attracted to women. He asks Claire not to tell anyone, even her husband Gilles (Raphaël Personnaz, a ringer for Superman-era Christopher Reeve).
After the initial shock (“You’re a pervert!”) wears off, Claire finds she enjoys going shopping and having an occasional girls’ night out, so she invents a new girlfriend, Virginia, to explain the time she spends with David in his — er, her — new persona. She still thinks there’s something wrong with David but enjoys enabling him … her?
The story could go in a lot of different directions from here, and it does. Between dreams, fantasies and reality, every possibility is explored, including some you might never think of. I won’t spoil it with any details — just be prepared to be surprised… repeatedly.
Gay writer-director François Ozon, who has made some of the best French films of the last two decades, adapted this script from a short story by novelist Ruth Rendell. It’s mostly serious, and when it makes you laugh you’ll have second thoughts about whether that was the appropriate reaction. (Screw political correctness — if it’s funny, laugh!)
Think of The New Girlfriend as another nail in the coffin of labels for gender identity and sexual orientation. In a few more years, we may have no use for them. Meanwhile, enjoy watching Claire wrestle with the changes.
— Steve Warren
Three stars. Now playing at Landmark’s Magnolia
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 25, 2015.