FRANCOIS Ozon is an often interesting director in the world of French cinema.
Put his name on a film poster and you can tell that the film is going to be different.
His latest work, an adaptation of the recently passed Ruth Rendell’s short story, The New Girlfriend, has the Chabrol-esque traits of previous works but doesn’t contain the wholly impressive nature of them.
Beginning with a montage depicting the lives of two female friends, Claire and Laura, ranging from discovery to nights out to marriages to births, the subsequent death of Laura leaves those close to her devastated, specifically her husband David (Romain Duris).
When Claire (Anais Demoustier) visits her deceased friend’s house, she is shocked to discover that the ‘woman’ she sees cradling Laura and David’s son is actually David himself.
Combining his appearance with that of another woman, Claire ultimately forms a gradually close friendship with the cross-dressing widower, attending flirtation-riddled trips to cinemas, restaurants and nightclubs.
The friendship ultimately attracts suspicion from Claire’s husband and he and Claire ultimately work together to find what motives lie within David’s new lifestyle, leading to unexpected territory that will have repercussions for all three by the end.
Ozon has made films, both entertaining and underwhelming, in the past. This falls into the latter because Ozon is at that point where one sees his better works and expects a similar level of entertainment.
While Jeune et Jolie , though an OK work, suffered from a basic storytelling approach and Potiche lacked the required hysterics, his darkly comic, middle-class mysteries Swimming Pool and, especially, In the House featured a level of unpredictability and intrigue that justify repeat viewings.
The first half spends too much time over-indulging on the unlikely friendship between David and Claire and the films’s occasional foray into Rocky Horror-like territory is unwelcome as it demotes the mystery storytelling element one would expect a great deal more of from Ozon.
There is a modest amount of mystery but it only appears until the second half. The friendship though overtly-described does deliver curiosities as to where the aims are heading, for better or worse, and the eventual involvement of Claire’s husband increases in the intrigue.
Ozon does devise certain scenes however that run the risk of being cringe-worthy and one can be forgiven for querying about whether the occasional feature of sexual imagery is really that key to the plot.
Duris, it should be pointed out, is convincing but one remains unconvinced at his ability to produce himself as a truly great modern actor for France. Though this and other roles in The Beat That My
Heart Skipped, Heartbreaker, The Big Picture and Mood Indigo demonstrate versatility, he lacks the memorability and scenery-chewing capability of contemporaries such as Vincent Cassel and Jean Dujardin.
The New Girlfriend is a modest attempt at being a mystery but its inconsistencies and overt character development make this an unsuccessful venture for Ozon who has done, and in future will more than likely do, much better.