Written and directed by one of my favorite French directors, François Ozon (Potiche, In the House), The New Girlfriend is loosely adapted from a story by the wonderful mystery writer Ruth Rendell. But it isn’t really a mystery. It’s more a psychological thriller about a woman’s loss of her BFF and her finding a new one in the most unexpected place. It’s about love and loss and gender identity and the fine line between attraction and friendship. And it is extremely well done.
Claire and Laura are besties from childhood, but Laura dies young leaving a husband, David, and an infant daughter. Claire promises Laura on her deathbed that she will look after David and the baby. But when she shows up at the house to check on him, she finds a strange woman holding the child. Then she realized that the woman is actually a fully decked out, cross-dressing David. It turns out he likes dressing as a woman, and he thinks it soothes the baby. He did it before he was married, but having Laura around made him need it less. Not wanting to out him to (or perhaps share him with) her husband, Claire begins to refer to him as her friend Virginia and sneaks him out to shop, and then for a weekend at his dead wife’s childhood house in the country. Laura is both intrigued and confused by her feelings for this man in her best friend’s clothes.
David/Virginia could easily have been played for laughs, but his cross-dressing isn’t about campiness. It’s about being who he needs to be, and Claire’s view of him evolves through the film. I won’t give away the plot, because it is a smart script beautifully directed that keeps you on your toes. And the actors play off one another perfectly. There are funny moments to be sure, but also scenes where you fear what might happen, and you don’t quite know where it is going until the end. I highly recommend it for the arty crowd. You know who you are.