Ruth of Silver Screenings and Kristina of Speakeasy are hosting the O Canada! Blogathon to celebrate all things Canada in film and TV, and I thought I would contribute because Canadian cinematography is close to my heart. It has always tried to be different and often experimented. Xavier Dolan, my choice for this blogathon, is no different. He is a Montreal, Quebec-born film director who produced his first major film I Killed My Mother (2009), that received numerous awards, at the age of 20, and who then went to direct five other award-winning films, with his seventh film The Death and Life of John F. Donovan (2018) currently being in production. I will focus on two of his films: Laurence Anyways (2012) and It’s Only the End of the World (2016).
Laurence Anyways  – ★★★★★
Xavier Dolan writes unusual films with equally unusual presentations, but his stories are always full of humanity and bare human emotion, and, thus, they are always relatable. Laurence Anyways is one of those films. It is a beautiful and daring French-language film about the enduring power of love that trespasses the boundaries of societal conventions.
September 1989. A person is on the verge of a mental collapse because he does not feel right in his own body. The truth is that Laurence Alia (Melvil Poupaud) wants to become a woman. The outsider’s perspective is that here is the man who has everything going for him in life: he is a respected teacher at school who has recently won a distinguished prize and he is happily living with his girlfriend Fred (Suzanne Clement), with both of them enjoying their hedonistic pursuits in their free time. On the inside, however, things are not so good. Laurence constantly feels the call of his true nature: a woman’s nature. In a few months’ time the truth is out: Laurence lets everyone know of his decision to transform. However, his transition to become a woman is not easy on those closest to him. Problems soon emerge, first at a school where he works and then with Fred, his female lover.
Although the transition of Laurence is an interesting one, it is probably his loving relationship with Fred which is the most fascinating element in the movie. The two live in their own world which comprises lists of “things that minimise their pleasure”, and secret knowledge. As time passes, Laurence has to confront a difficult question: should one remain true to oneself or his lover? The lovers go their separate paths, but then the year 1995 comes, and the two no longer can live without seeing each other again.
Xavier Dolan knows a lot about how to make a film powerful emotionally and he employs numerous techniques to achieve that. The splendid use of music throughout the film accentuates the important moments in the story, while giving it “cool” and “wow” factors, for example, through the use of such tracks as Fade to Grey by Visage, Enjoy the Silence by Depeche Mode and A New Error by Moderat. Particularly good scenes with music are those where Laurence walks down a school corridor dressed in a women’s clothes for the first time, and where Laurence and Fred go outside to begin their journey to the Isle of Black. Being such an instinctive director, Dolan knows where to accelerate events in the story, and where to let the camera be still for minutes at a time, to let the emotion of a scene “sink in”, such as where Laurence walks into a classroom dressed as a woman to give his lesson after the Christmas break.
What is also incredible is how distinct and instantly memorable Dolan makes his picture. Little details go a long way in his picture. When Laurence still lives as a man, Fred wears her hair long, emphasising her female role in their relationship. However, when Laurence makes his transformation, Fred sports a shorter haircut, meaning that she now may also play a more masculine role in their union. Even her name “Fred” (from Frederique) sounds very masculine for any anglophone. Other things to notice are numerous instances where Laurence and Fred are pictured in their car, and the car may symbolise that the pair is in the state of transition, a journey, maybe of finding themselves.
Despite the main characters’ unusual life circumstances, it is impossible not to feel for them when watching this story. The cast does an excellent job. It feels like the role of Laurence was written specifically with Melvil Poupaud in mind. Poupaud performs in such a way that Laurence appears an eccentric young man who tries to find his way in this world, but who is also very devoted to his lover. His lines full of irony add much “entertainment” value to many scenes. Paupaud also has a surprisingly good chemistry with his co-star Suzanne Clement, who gives a mesmerising performance as a woman trying to help her lover realise his dream. The interesting thing here is that, although we sympathise with Laurence (who would not when catching sight of his tortured stare?), Fred’s situation is also understandable as she finds it hard to balance her love for Laurence and her wish for children and some stability.
Laurence Anyways now has all the trademarks of quintessentially Dolan’s film-making, including extravaganza in visual presentation, the effective use of popular songs, and the emotive, nostalgic components. Even though many commented on the film’s excessive length and its “messiness”, it is still a perfect film for me. It is beautiful, bold and distinct. Laurence Anyways not only drops powerfully emotional messages while it tells a moving love story between two people caught up in bizarre life circumstances, but also creates scenes of pure cinematic beauty, using artful fantastic displays in some scenes. The result is an unforgettable movie which is enhanced even more by the brilliant performances of its dedicated cast.
5 Comments Add yours
Great write-up! The epic running time and music video aesthetic could be labelled as self-indulgent, but I really enjoyed how the photography is beautifully put together with the music, and the performances and story are captivating. A pity so few people have seen this film, I consider it a contemporary masterpiece of our time, and it appears you do too!
Thanks! Yes, I do too, and I am very glad to know there is someone else who thinks like me!
I agree some bits of the film could definitely be described as self-indulgent but it is precisely this visual freedom in film-making which makes this film so memorable and even unique. There are films out there which are self-indulgent-pretentious, but it is so difficult to describe Laurence Anyways in that way. The love story between Laurence and Fred feels true and believable despite such strange circumstances, and the ending is even shyly sweet.
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This sounds like an absorbing and thought-provoking film that raises all kinds of questions. I bet it’s a film one doesn’t easily forget?
Thanks for bringing not one, but TWO, marvellous entries to the O Canada blogathon! 🙂
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