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The New Girlfriend (Une Nouvelle Amie) – I Am Virginia

The New Girlfriend

Romain Duris in THE NEW GIRLFRIEND Photo Courtesy of Cohen Media Group

Years from now, one hopes, when the obituaries will be written for the Olympian formerly known as Bruce Jenner, his list of accomplishments will certainly include his breaking the world record in the decathalon, winning a gold medal, and inaugurating the flag-draped victory lap at the Montreal Summer Olympics in 1976. However, what he achieved in 2015 may be considered the most stunningly prodigious of them all:

He made transgender boring.

In this 21st century, the entire nation knows what each letter of the acronym LGBT stands for. Krazy Kentucky Kristians are still having kiniptions over the L, the G, and the B, but the T now elicits yawns.

I don’t need to tell you that Bruce Jenner is now Caitlynn Jenner, likely the most senior woman with that name. Speculation over whether she has removed her bits or not is likely to induce even more yawns.

During the May Sweeps interview with Diane Sawyer when he was still Bruce, he said his attraction to women would not change. (More jaw-dropping was the revelation that neither would his political afflilation – gasp! Republican)  Would that make him a lesbian when he became be a she?

Once Vanity Fair published the Annie Liebovitz-lensed reveal of Call Me Caitlynn it didn’t seem to matter. Caitlynn Jenner isn’t the first transgender celebrity even if she is the first to win an Espy for Courage.

Christine Jorgensen in the 1950s and Reneé Richards in the 1970s bravely faced the public as transgendered women before Caitlynn, but their lives weren’t subject to the brutal phenomenon of reality television where their banal pre-trans everyday lives could be scrutinized.

Men have been forever dressing up in women’s clothes for public entertainment (see all British humor (sic)), but the idea that a man could need to become a woman was, pardon the pun, closeted until the threat of contracting AIDS spread beyond those who could be marginalized by “lifestyle.” The initials LGBT became a catch-all protective umbrella.

In the very recent past, while same-sex marriage was becoming the law of the land, a beautiful WASPy blonde introduced a transgender woman to the rest of the world who unexpectedly became the ambassador for all transgendered people to Couch Potato America.

That blonde was the actress Taylor Shilling playing the character of Piper Chapman in the über-successful Orange Is The New Black , and that transgender woman was cast member Laverne Cox who has enlightened society about what it means to be transgender. Her transgender character was far from the most degenerate of the multifarious cast of female inmates.

The following year, the acclaimed but little-watched series Transparent showed a white, upper-middle class, not-too-Jewish perspective.

I recount this history to illustrate a point:

Transgender, et alors?

Fewer people are watching I Am Cait than the Kollected pestilence of Ryan Seacrest-produced Kardashian Kornucopia that depicted Bruce for years as a henpecked, emasculated, voice of reason in a Koven of Krap.

However, it seems Bruce’s secret wasn’t so secret.

Bruce wore this rather feminine outfit in the 1978 movie Can’t Stop The Music

The New Girlfriend

image YouTube

That’s a girls hot shirt paired with Daisy Dukes.

Also, a 2009 episode of Family Guy was uncannily prescient:

So can a transgender-subject movie from a gay French director known for pushing sexual buttons shock us puritanical Americans?

The answer is a delightful non.

Director François Ozon was once the gay-réalisateur-provacateur. Has he softened with age? Or has the threshold for gay-réalisateur-provacateur been raised?

This is a rhetorical question, not a challenge intended for Lars Von Trier.

One of Ozon’s more recent movies Dans La Maison (In The House) was an unexpectedly quaint suburban thriller that made his work more accessible.

His taste may still run dark, The New Girlfriend is loosely (librement -the opening credits say) based on a short story, the uncustomarily identically titled “The New Girlfriend” by the late murder-mystery author Ruth Rendell.  I didn’t think reading the original work would offer any ancillary insights.

When a Frenchman announces his fidelité is “loose,” I believe him. He admits to changing a murder of a main character in the story to an ersatz resurrection of another. (production notes interview)

The story is told from the point of view of Claire, who at the beginning of the movie is mourning the death of her BFF Laura. She recounts their shared history from their meeting at the age of seven through life’s milestones:  meeting a partner, marrying, and Laura’s having a daughter.

After Laura’s death, Claire seeks out David, not only to fulfill her obligation as Lucie’s godmother, but to mitigate her own grief by helping him with his.

One particular day, Claire goes to David’s house without calling first, finds the front door is open, (of course) enters the house tentatively, and finds David peacefully cradling his daughter as if he were her mother- literally.

David is wearing Laura’s clothes, makeup, and a blonde wig. Claire is understandably taken aback. David offers a touchingly tender explanation:  being dressed in Laura’s clothes is a source of comfort for himself and Lucie that buffers the tragic loss of femininity and maternity both of them suffered.

Claire provides the safe space and companionship that David needs to become the woman he feels he truly is, a woman Claire names Virginia- would that Bruce Jenner had allowed a woman to choose his new name.

Yet, there are some meddlesome moments:

There is a curious moment during the flashback of Laura’s wedding to David. Claire is her maid of honor, and during the ceremony she casts a furtive gaze towards David. It defies interpretation: is Claire jealous? in love with David? colluding with him behind Laura’s back? These questions are never answered.

Neither is it explained why Laura is wheelchair-bound at the baptism of her daughter Lucie. She and Claire exchange forced grins. Et …hop we are returned to Laura’s funeral where the movie began.

There are alos from some niggling shots that look too much like specific scenes from Pedro Almodóvar movies. Apart from these incongruities, there is nothing else that casts a shadow in this light, bourgeois tale.

The New Girlfriend is an enjoyable divertissement that in American hands would be laden down with P.C. messaging and focus-group set targets.

I doubt an American director would be familiar with two artists whose work is included in the movie’s soundtrack. Amanda Lear, the ambigiously transsexual French pop singer‘s hit “Follow Me,” and the gender-indeterminate, soprano-voiced German performance artist Klaus Nomi‘s rendition of the aria“Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix.”  The unique choice of having a drag queen perform Nicole Croiselle’s Une Femme Avec Toi (click the title to see it performed in the movie followed by an excerpt of Amanda Lear) comprise a thoughtful, perfect soundtrack.

Although Ozon read the story twenty years ago and had prepared a faithful adaptation, he couldn’t get the project off the ground.

It was a fateful delay. Movies that dealt with transvestism such as Some Like It Hot, Tootsie, and Victor Victoria had plots that were motivated by external circumstances that ” …made it possible for the audience to identify with the characters and enjoy the transvestism without guilt or discomfort.” (production notes interview)

David’s desire to dress as a woman comes from within. This trivial distinction attests to the importance of this milestone. It doesn’t matter why David want to dress as a woman. Transvestite, transgender, it’s all personal and mundane.

As it should be.

 

 

 

About 

This site was borne of my passion for movies, particularly French films. I have spent time in France and am fluent in the language, hence the “le”. The “snob” part, while of French origin, is not meant to intimidate, but rather an effort to reclaim the word from the pretentious, just as the gay community has done with the word “queer.” We’re all snobs; we all like what we like.

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