Dir/scr: Francois Ozon. France. 2014. 105mins
Francois Ozon is never less than smooth, elegant and fashionable and his new film confirms it once again. He is also known for exploring various sexual diversions in a risqué but decorous manner, never exceeding the limits of safe mainstream approval and once again, his new film does not disappoint. His adaptation of a Ruth Rendell story moves confidently into territory that he knows by heart, and once released it should hit the gay market with a vengeance, but straight audiences may well join in to express their appreciation of the cool demeanor of a director who often seems to be amused by his characters to such an extent that he can’t sympathise with them seriously all the way.
Ozon handles it all with his usual aplomb, in his hands all these characters seem practically normal, and if there is a touch of sarcasm in his look, no one will complain - this is, after all, a love story for the modern age, and part of its charm is the confusion around one’s sexual identity.
Laura (Isilde Le Besco) and Claire (Anais Demoustier), best friends since the age of seven, grow up side-by-side, sharing many happy moments and some sad ones as well. They get married almost at the same time, safe in the knowledge that their friendship should last forever…but Laura gets sick, fades away in hospital leaving behind a husband, David (Romain Duris) and a baby. On her deathbed, Claire pledges to take care of them both. All these details are dealt with in less than ten minutes - that is after an opening sequence whose final twist is unfair to reveal at this stage.
As inconsolable as she is by the death of her friend, Claire soon discovers someone even more despondent than she is. It is Laura’s husband, in the pits of despair after having been left alone with his child, or so he claims. To relieve the pain, he puts on Laura’s dresses every time he is at home on his own. When accidentally discovered by Claire, who barges in without warning, he takes her into his confidence, tells her Laura knew he had this kind of weakness and condoned it, though all the time they were together he did not resort to it.
Now, that he is on his own, he asks for Claire’s assistance, and she can’t resist playing with fire and takes David, in his outrageous Virginia disguise, for shopping sprees in town, and the two of them get much closer than Claire’s husband (Raphael Personnaz) actually suspects. He is too busy at work to check on his wife’s small deceptions, which she insists are purely innocent but no one in the audience would fall for it. And indeed, in due course the script dutifully confirms innocence had nothing to do with it.
Mischievous minds could interpret the whole plot, with a smile, as the materialisation of an ideal but undeclared lesbian love affair. Though they don’t even seem to dream about it, Laura and Claire are in love, they sublimate it by calling it friendship, but when Laura dies and David steps into her shoes, embracing her image, it is only to be expected that Claire’s old passion will be rekindled for the transvestite who pathetically tries, without deceiving a soul, to look like a woman.
Ozon handles it all with his usual aplomb, in his hands all these characters seem practically normal, and if there is a touch of sarcasm in his look, no one will complain - this is, after all, a love story for the modern age, and part of its charm is the confusion around one’s sexual identity. Everyone here lives in sumptuous villas, drives luxury cars and if they actually need to work their expense budget seems to have no visible limits to hamper their style. It makes love so much easier to entertain.
All technical credits are irreproachable, Demoustier is cute, hesitant and perky, neither Personnaz nor Le Besco have too much to do beyond looking agreeable. But the main stumbling block here may be Romain Duris, who works a bit too much on looking effeminate and whose jaw sticks out too far, every time he is in drag. Ozon may have chosen him on purpose, but if this is case, the satire turns into caricature. On the other hand, who knows, maybe Ozon is trying to tell his audience that the most effective way to court your dead wife’s best friend is to put on the wife’s clothes and pretend to be a drag queen.
Production company: Mandarin Films
International sales: Film Distribution,www.filmdistribution.com
Producers: Eric Altmayer, Nicholas Altmayer
Cinematography: Pascal Marti
Editor: Laure Gardette
Production designer: Michel Barthelemy
Music: Philippe Romby
Main cast: Romain Duris, Anais Demoustier, Raphael Personnaz, Isild Le Besco