The New Girlfriend (François Ozon, 2014)

Anaïs Demoustier and Romain Duris in a scene from François Ozon’s  The New Girlfriend  {Photo: COHEN MEDIA GROUP}

Anaïs Demoustier and Romain Duris in a scene from François Ozon’s The New Girlfriend {Photo: COHEN MEDIA GROUP}

The New Girlfriend screens on Friday, September 18 at Chicago's Landmark Century Cinema. For additional ticketing information, click here

Ever the prankster provocateur, director François Ozon’s The New Girlfriend opens with image of a woman in a wedding gown, only for the audience to become aware that the woman is dead. It’s her funeral. Ozon’s new film does not quite match up with his 2012 masterwork In the House, but The New Girlfriend is certainly an imaginative and at times thematically challenging effort.

A rapid montage sequence details the relationship between Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) and Laura (Isild Le Besco), as the two inseparable school children would grow up to become the best of friends. Suggestions are made early and often that Claire’s more dependent on Laura than she lets on, with Laura’s unexpected death spiraling the French ingénue into depression. At the advice of her husband, Claire checks in on Laura’s husband David (Romain Duris), where she’s shocked to find him wearing one of Laura’s staple outfits. It writes itself from here, as Ozon reworks Ruth Rendell’s source novel with numerous shout-outs to Fassbinder and Hitchcock.

Ozon’s greatest struggle proves to be in exploring the psychological depths of his two compelling characters. Laura’s death unites Claire and David, but it’s in how they manage their sexual and emotional baggage that proves to be most intriguing. Ozon is capable of rendering some wonderfully marvelous sequences, notably as Claire and Virginia (David’s alter ego when venturing out as a woman) hit up a gay bar in a scene akin to the cabaret scene in Fassbinder’s Lola. But he subverts these momentary flourishes with broad, bombastic, and flamboyant comedy that doesn’t so much dismantle the project as it does sort of mollify its emotional efficacy. Uneven, but perpetually interesting, it’s to the film and Ozon’s credit that he leaves you wanting something more out of his character that what you get.