Alliance Francaise French Film Festival favourite François Ozon is no stranger to depicting LGBT characters in his films and in his latest, The New Girlfriend (Une nouvelle amie), the celebrated director offers an engaging exploration of gender, sexual identity and grief.
Loosely based on a short story by celebrated British crime writer Ruth Rendell, The New Girlfriend is an intelligent thriller that recalls Claude Chabrol's Golden Era melded with Pedro Almodóvar's trademark black humour.
The New Girlfriend opens with an almost non-verbal opening montage sequence which depicts childhood friends Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) and Laura (Isild Le Besco) making a blood stained pact to stay friends forever. The girls become young women and eventually marry their respective partners - David (Romain Duris) and Gilles (Raphaël Personnaz). However after the birth of her daughter, Laura suddenly passes away - leaving Claire distraught and David (Romain Duris) grief-stricken.
Acknowledging her childhood pact with Laura, Claire dedicates her life to watching over David and his new-born daughter Lucie. However this pact will test both Claire and David as a well-kept secret is unwittingly revealed.
One afternoon Claire stumbles upon David dressed in his wife's clothes, bottle-feeding Lucie. Ozon treats this surprising image of David with the utmost sensitivity - it is at first suggested David is grieving and this is a phase that will pass.
Claire too responds to David's primal urge to physically re-connect with Laura and promises to keep his secret safe.
After this first meeting, an elated Claire changes David's listing in her phone to 'Victoria'.
Relieved to be talking openly about his secret life which began as a child, David calls upon Clare and meets her as Victoria. The two swiftly bond and the vivacious Victoria becomes what David and Claire both need to overcome their shared grief.
Eventually Victoria is unleashed in the outside world - giving David a new found lease on life and Claire, a new best friend. But their feelings for one another soon become distorted and begin to head into dangerous territory.
Ambiguity is key to The New Girlfriend and with a narrative littered with teasing revelations, it makes for entertaining viewing.
Importantly the character of Victoria is treated with respect, thanks to Duris' masterful and elegant performance. Demoustier too is remarkable as her initially meek character slowly confronts her own desires and paranoia.
Set against a backdrop of Katy Perry hits and classic French disco, The New Girlfriend is sure to delight Ozon fans.
The New Girlfriend is screening exclusively at the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival - click here for session details.