If you take a hard look, movies often do not pass the Bechdel test, which stipulates that, in a work of fiction, at least two females must talk to each other about something other than a man. Just think back to the Academy Award nominated films from last year: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Selma, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, Whiplash, Birdman, Boyhood, American Sniper. In which of these, did two females talk to each other about something other than a man? Which of these even had two females?
François Ozon’s latest film, The New Girlfriend, does pass the Bechdel test, albeit in a modern kind of way. The film takes off following a funeral. After her best friend passes away, Claire (Anaïs Demoustier), young, married, and bourgeois, vows to care for her best friend’s husband, David (Romain Duris), and their baby daughter, to whom she’s godmother. David, it turns out, has reverted to crossdressing, a habit he repressed during his marriage. With Transparent and Tangerine and I Am Cait, transgender is in vogue. And, in this uncharacteristically tongue-in-cheek affair, Ozon, a master of sultry cinema, puts his touch on the topic. Romain Duris, who also cross-dressed, briefly, in Russian Dolls, delivers a sincere but affected performance as a crossdresser attracted to women. Ozon uses the crossdresser’s dilemma as a channel to illustrate the permutations of sexual orientation. As usual, Ozon presents sexual intercourse better than the average director: Too many movies, even R-rated ones, cut from a heated kiss to the post-coital cigarette, eliding the most interesting part, or, if the sex is shown, it’s by way of extreme closeups accompanied by trite music. In addition to the sex scenes, a stylish exposition, by way of eulogy, establishing the homoerotic bonds of Claire and her departed best friend is shot and cut with panache. But, overall, the story is sentimental and heavy-handed, its tone too playful to generate the kind of suspense Ozon’s engineered in past efforts.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White