Directed by: François Ozon
Starring: Romain Duris, Anaïs Demoustier, Raphaël Personnaz
Befitting of his characteristically sharp wit and provocatively playful nature, director François Ozon begins his latest film with a terrifically teasing sequence. Though we never see her face, we recognise a woman going through the ritualistic stages of dressing; makeup is applied, earrings are affixed, stockings are hitched. And as the chimes of the wedding march are heard in the background, we see a dress of illuminating virtue delicately embrace the lady’s figure. This is it, her wedding day, she’s about to experience the happiest moment of her life.
Accept, unfortunately, she isn’t. For as the camera pans up, it reveals the woman to be lying in a coffin of purest white; today isn’t her first trip down the aisle, it’s her final one.
Our corpse bride is Laura (Isild Le Besco); she’s the mother of baby Lucie, wife of David (Romain Duris), and since childhood has been the best friend of Claire (Anaïs Demoustier). In the weeks that follow Laura’s death, Claire finds herself drifting apart from her loving husband Gilles (Raphaël Personnaz), and falling further into a deep depression. Then one morning, in a bid to remain connected to Laura, Claire decides to call round and check on David & Lucie…Despite being an early revelation, to disclose the details of what Claire finds upon arrival at David’s house wouldn’t be fair on those who haven’t seen the film. Suffice it to say that this initial twist allows Ozon to craft another typically freewheeling tale of human sexuality, gender, class, and consumerism.
Drifting from outlandish comedy to absurdist melodrama, before eventually developing into a psychosexual thriller, The New Girlfriend once more confirms writer/director Ozon as an infectiously individualistic voice within French cinema who does deserve to be heard. His script erupts with a fiery wit that’s devilishly delightful, while the profound and sensitive performances of his strong cast allow the emotional complexity within the story to remain proportional.
Everything, however, is almost entirely undone by Ozon’s frustratingly lazy storytelling, which seems far more interested in stumbling down a number of nonsensical side alleys than walking along a layered and more meaningful narrative path. And soon the story’s sensationalist tendencies, coupled with the glossy and autumnal appearance, lead you to feel like you’re watching a particularly draining episode of Desperate Housewives that’s been relocated to the French suburbs and directed by someone who ignorantly thinks they’re Alfred Hitchcock. What you’re left with is a film that admirably attempts to run in its heels before it has mastered the ability to walk in them.