by David Lamble
The New Girlfriend, the latest kinky tale from the diabolical Frenchmen Francois Ozon, commences with an intense close-up of lipstick being applied to a freshly dead young woman. The sassy director arranges for his "a film by" credit to flash on the screen just as a hand gently closes the young woman's eyes and the lid of her coffin slides shut, and a church organ is heard in the swelling climax of "Here Comes the Bride."
The camera pulls back to reveal a church chapel full of mourners intently listening to a eulogy from the girl's best friend. "Laura was my best friend. My friend for life. The moment we met, it was love at first sight." Adapting short fiction by Ruth Rendell with an A-list young French cast (Romain Duris, Anais Demoustier, Raphael Personnaz), Ozon renews his credentials as the French filmmaker most capable of infusing normal rites of passage with delicious injections of morbidity, inappropriate thoughts and actions, all culminating in the cinema-smashing of social taboos.
My first exposure to Ozon's world was Criminal Lovers, a film that explored jealousy, young love, murder and cannibalism, a mix Ozon admitted to me that was a little too toxic even for critics pushing the envelope. After the first misstep there have followed a series of hits in France and along the American art-house circuit, including 8 Women and Swimming Pool .
Accepting his intentions, The New Girlfriend is first-rate adult entertainment, with the hook of a male character (Duris) who derives wicked pleasure from public crossdressing, displays that make his best female friend (Demoustier) increasingly uncomfortable as their story arc spins more and more out of control.
Without providing additional spoilers, suffice it to say The New Girlfriend should win Ozon a host of new fans, as well as providing cutting-edge social commentators with some spicy talking points.
East Side Sushi Have to admit I'm a sucker for well-produced movies about food, cooking and family restaurants: Babette's Feast, Mostly Martha, The Big Night. First-time fiction feature director Anthony Lucero takes a stab at this delicious category with an Oakland-based tale of a plucky food worker who harbors big dreams for herself, her small daughter and Mexican immigrant dad.
We first see Juana (Diana Elizabeth Torres) as she sets out to run a neighborhood food truck. Sadly, she picks the wrong hood, and is taught a painful lesson and robbed of her grubstake by the local thugs. In Act II, Juana turns the page and nabs a kitchen prep job at a nearby Japanese family restaurant. She sets her sights on learning to be a sushi chef and moving up to the front of the joint, while developing a fan-base for her way with raw fish.
Standing in her way is the "Women don't belong working out front where the customers can see them" old-school views of the restaurant's owner, Mr. Yoshida (veteran Tokyo-born TV/film actor Roji Oyama). Juana tries to win the old sourpuss over with the tacit support of the restaurant's #1 chef, Aki (Japanese-born Yutaka Takeuchi, who has been seen in such high profile films as director Edward Zwick's The Last Samurai and Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima, which presented the Japanese point of view of the ferocious naval, air and land battle for these strategic South Pacific islands).
It's tempting to oversell the virtues of small "little engine that could" local movies with their boosts for the economy and local pride components. But taken on its own terms, East Side Sushi is a leisurely 100 minutes of light drama and conversational acting, whose draw is our ability to almost smell what it's like to work in a restaurant kitchen where your critics are downing your work a few feet away. One thing for sure: you'll be prepared for a terrific restaurant feast as the credits roll.