The New Girlfriend-2015
Starring-Romain Duris, Anais Demoustier
Reviewed March 5, 2016
The New Girlfriend is a French, and lighter, version of The Danish Girl, a similarly themed film also released in 2014-2015. The story involves gender identification confusion among the central character, though the time period in The Danish Girl is the 1920’s, The New Girl is set in present times.
The film begins with a brief montage of the lives of two best friends- Laura and Claire- sharing a life together and inseparable as children, young adults, and even as married women. Sadly, we learn that Laura has recently died of a terminal illness and this is where the film really begins. Claire embarks on a unique friendship with Laura’s husband David, when she catches him wearing female clothing and acting as a “mommy” to his infant daughter. They form a bond and Claire agrees to harbor David’s secret and even accompanying him in public as he slowly takes on the persona of “Virginia”.
I found the film quite compelling throughout most of the running time as we see David’s burning desire to both dress as a woman and feel like a woman. We mostly see the bond develop between Claire and David, who sometimes is Virginia, other times David. Claire is happily married to her successful, handsome, husband Gilles and the three individuals are friends- sharing dinners, tennis matches, and evenings consuming wine. Gilles is unaware of David’s secret and begins to fear an affair has ensued between his wife and his friend. Likewise, during moments, Claire imagines David and Gilles beginning a torrid affair.
Interestingly, the film does not go full steam ahead with the love triangle between Claire/Gilles/David (Virginia) and this is a wise choice. That would have made the film more typical and generic, and perhaps even one-note. Rather, the point of the film is the struggles David goes through to feel right as a woman and how his friends support him. When he kisses Claire and snuggles with her, it is not sexual in nature- it is to feel close to another woman. This makes the film more character driven.
As with many foreign language films, The New Girlfriend is liberal with nudity, both male and female. When nudity is featured in American films, typically it is in a gratuitous or in a sexual way. This film being French, the nudity was tasteful and even beautiful. When Claire is topless it is more expressive as the mystique of the female body than in a showing of a buxom woman, which Claire is not.
The ending of the film slightly disappointed me. The idyllic, fairy tale way that the film wrapped was romanticized and unrealistic. I would have liked to have seen even more of David/Virginia’s struggles and how his in-laws might have wrestled with the idea of their granddaughter being raised by a single man dressing as a woman.
Another flaw was the lack of explanation as to whether David- as a male-desired and yearned to biologically become a woman or if he was satisfied to dress up and publicly look like a woman. The film chose not to go this route and it undoubtedly would have made the film darker, containing a much deeper story. Instead The New Girlfriend was light, fun, and wholesome in its overall story.