Variety's Justin Chang on The New Girlfriend, which had its world premiere this week at the Toronto International Film Festival:
"An air of Hitchcockian menace and free-floating sexual perversity is by now nothing new for Francois Ozon, but rarely has this French master analyzed the cracks in his characters’ bourgeois facades to such smooth and pleasurable effect as he does in The New Girlfriend. A skillfully triangulated psychological thriller about a woman who learns that the husband of her deceased BFF is harboring a most unusual secret, this delectable entertainment is as surprising for its continually evolving (and involving) dynamics of desire as for its slow-building emotional power, making for a warmer, more open-ended experience than the creepy Ruth Rendell tale from which it’s been 'loosely adapted.' Powered by beautifully controlled performances from Anais Demoustier and Romain Duris, Ozon’s Girlfriend should have willing arthouse escorts lining up worldwide. It opens Nov. 5 in France.
"Rendell, that icy master of British detective fiction, has been best served onscreen by European filmmakers outside the U.K., at least on the evidence of Claude Chabrol’s La Ceremonie and Pedro Almodovar’s Live Flesh. Viewers may well recognize some signature Almodovarian flourishes in this particular saga of gender subversion and forbidden lust; in significantly reshaping Rendell’s taut, chilling short story (mainly by killing off a key character and adding an infant to the mix), Ozon has effectively transformed the material into a clever fantasia on the many varieties of sexual perversity. It will require some mental gymnastics on the viewer’s part to keep up with the increasingly unstable laws of desire that govern the second act, but the director crucially maintains a lifeline to reality even when things threaten to go deliciously over-the-top.
"From the moment they seal their bond in blood to their respective weddings some years later, childhood best friends Claire (played as an adult by Demoustier) and Laura (Isild Le Besco) are utterly inseparable. And so it comes as a particularly devastating blow when Laura becomes ill and dies, leaving her husband, David (Duris), to raise their newborn daughter, Lucie, by himself — albeit with help from godmother Claire and her spouse, Gilles (Raphael Personnaz). All this is compressed into a marvelously economical opening sequence, marked by a distinctly Brian De Palma vibe with its elegant camera moves and morbidly beautiful overhead shots of Laura’s impeccably dressed corpse, plus the mildly unnerving sense that the film is simultaneously mourning and mocking its characters’ unhappiness, as signaled by the swoons and sobs of Philippe Rombi’s extravagantly soapy score."