In The New Girlfriend, Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) tends to the family of her dead best friend, Laura, only to find Laura’s husband, David (Romain Duris), has begun dressing as a woman after her passing. Claire is shocked at first, but she soon begins to enjoy helping David explore femininity and in the process makes some important self-discoveries of her own.
It’s a delightful story of love and the gray zones of deep friendships. Duris — as David and his more feminine expression, Virginia — gives the film an effervescence and lift, conveying with charm and grace the joys of gender metamorphosis. He, as a she, is wonderful. Demoustier is also great, who in her furrowed and freckled boyish face shows the difficult emotional complications stirring underneath. They make a lovely pair together, trying on new gender roles in the very pretty cinematography of Pascal Marti, amid chateaus and swirling fall leaves.
Some may find the script melodramatic, while others may find it all too lightweight, given the perhaps more nuanced tales of trans-formation now in our mediascape. However, there are enough moments of humanity within to make the high-stakes drama real. It’s in the looks Claire and Virginia share together while dancing in a club, or in the undercurrents of tragedy threatening to undercut their connection. It’s in the way the characters are carried far by their acts of self-realization and fantasy, and the deceits Claire invents to preserve both her new ambiguous relationship and her marriage.
It’s also convincing in exploring the often-unmentioned connection between grief and sexuality, the doors of self-identification that open upon the loss of a loved one, and the connections forged between the bodies and spirits of the living and dead. Writer/director François withholds judgment from his subjects, returning again and again to their shared humanity — their very deep need to be in sync with themselves and loved and accepted by others.
The New Girlfriend is, above all, a great love story, a refreshing romance in an era where old gender roles are making room for new ones and love is leaping over aged boundaries. It’s sweet, tender, and happy overall — highly recommended to couples of all persuasions, be you friends or something more.