François Ozon's new feature Une nouvelle amie is perfectly timed. The story, about a young woman who discovers that her best friend's husband wants to become a woman, resonates in the post-Caitlyn Jenner era. At the same time, it is bracing to see the transgender issue from outside the American context, where a politically correct sanctimony, so perfectly satirized this week on the television show South Park, makes discussion impossible. In fact, transitioning from male to female may indeed be ridiculous, it may alienate one's friends and family, and it may even destroy one's life. Nonetheless, it is the only possible option for some people.
Ozon drew the idea, quite loosely, from a lurid short story written by Ruth Rendell in the 1980s, where the transgender issue is presented from a sort of horror-story perspective. Some of that uneasy quality is transferred to the female character, Claire, played with prim androgyny by Anaïs Demoustier (Belle épine) as someone who is uncomfortably close to her childhood girlfriend Laura (Isild Le Besco). When Laura dies, Claire cannot seem to go on, but her husband, Gilles (Raphaël Personnaz, from The Princess of Montpensier), tries to get her to heal by helping out Laura's husband, David, and infant daughter. The four friends are BCBG (bon chic, bon genre) to the max, living in American-style McMansions in the wealthy far exurbs of Paris, and it is a shock when Claire finds David dressed in Laura's frock and a blond wig.
New York Times | Hollywood Reporter | Washington Post
Variety | Los Angeles Times | A.V. Club
This is where the movie became so weird and absurd, so infatuated with its own kitsch, that I almost stopped watching. Actor Romain Duris, whom you may recall as one of the students in Cédric Klapisch's L'auberge espagnole or in the title role in Laurent Tirard's Molière, is not bad in drag. Claire helps David sort out his feelings about becoming a woman, on shopping excursions and most memorably at a drag show one weekend (featuring the 1970s pop song Une femme avec toi, sung by Nicole Croisille, which apparently became a French gay anthem). What kept me watching was Ozon's directorial tics, swerving between his tendencies as a filmmaker, alternately towards screwball comedy (Potiche) and psychological thriller (Dans la maison). While not a good film exactly, it is at the least an unusual one, albeit with some explicit sexual themes that may make some viewers uncomfortable.
This film opens today at Landmark's Bethesda Row Cinema.