Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. France, 2014. Mandarin Films, FOZ, Mars Films, France 2 Cinema, Canal+, CineCinema, France Televisions, Sofica Manon 4, La Banque Postale Image 7, Cofimage 25, Cinémage 8. Screenplay by Francois Ozon, based on the novel by Ruth Rendell. Cinematography by Pascal Marti. Produced by Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer. Music by Philippe Rombi. Production Design by Michel Barthelemy. Costume Design by Pascaline Chavanne. Film Editing by Laure Gardette. Toronto International Film Festival 2014.
Anaïs Demoustier loses childhood best friend Isild Le Besco to illness and, true to their promise, vows to watch over the late woman’s baby girl and widower (Romain Duris). An unannounced visit to the family house and our heroine discovers an unexpected surprise: Duris is holding his daughter while fully decked out as a woman, announcing that it is something about him his wife always knew and that, since her death, his putting on his wife’s old dresses has become more important since her clothing and perfume are the only thing that soothe the constantly crying baby. Demoustier has a reaction that in French cinema and the houses these people live in can only be called bourgeois, but she warms up to it enough to convince him to move further in exploring a side of himself that, as time goes on and Duris’ confidence grows, appears to be far more than just a secret habit but the path to his, now her, true self. Demoustier, however, is constantly at war between her natural sympathy and her prejudices, which she mistakes for loyalty to her friend, keeping the entire matter secret from her husband (Raphaël Personnaz) and not always giving Duris (who when transformed into a woman looks a lot like Carmen Maura) the feedback she deserves. This sensitive, enjoyable film by Francois Ozon gets high points for appeal, especially in the choices of such a beautiful cast, but it misses out a lot in terms of content. The lack of conflict is a pleasant change in a film on the subject, not every film about a member of the trans community needs a scene of violence to prove that the world is a tough place, but the struggles of self-acceptance that Duris goes through are referenced without being felt, while the chummy camaraderie between the main characters that is supposed to lead to the unpredictable third act is never really earned. The whole thing feels like surface, but it doesn’t do well enough at surface to say that it is successful as an aesthetic experience either. Duris commits to the performance as more than just a costume opportunity, however, and Ozon certainly treats the subject with a hell of a lot more intelligence and less homophobic panic than a similar film like Anything You Want did.