Self-indulgent yet showing maturity beyond his years, Dolan’s third feature draws top-notch performances from its leads and makes us feel the emotional and psychological complexities associated with being a transgender.
Dir. Xavier Dolan
2012 | Canada | Drama/Romance | 168 mins | 1.33:1 | French
R21 (passed clean) for mature themes and coarse language
Cast: Melvil Poupaud, Emmanuel Schwartz, Suzanne Clément
Plot: A drama that charts 10 years in the relationship of a male-to-female transsexual’s relationship with her lover.
Awards: Won Queer Palm & Best Actress – Un Certain Regard (Cannes). Won Best Canadian Feature Film (Toronto)
International Sales: MK2
Subject Matter: Slightly Mature
Narrative Style: Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed on DVD – first published 2 Mar 2018)
I wonder if Xavier Dolan would ever make a movie this sprawling again. His third feature, after the critical success of I Killed My Mother (2009) and Heartbeats (2010), Laurence Anyways is nearly three hours long.
While the film does feel its length, Dolan’s ambition—and his ability to fulfil it—carves out something extraordinary, so much so that one could forgive its bloatedness and appreciate the intensity and vigour of this self-indulgent picture.
Accompanied by a rhythmic soundtrack comprising of both original and source music, Laurence Anyways is pumped-up filmmaking. The film is not just visually stunning (Dolan’s DP Yves Belanger plays with the camera with great dexterity), but more importantly, it is aware that it needs the substance to go with the style.
“You have crossed the borders of my life, of my town, of my street. All that’s left is my front door. I think you know where to find me.”
Enter Melvil Poupard (he was famously in Eric Rohmer’s A Summer Tale (1996)) and Suzanne Clement (who did such great work in Dolan’s Mommy (2014)), both of whom give top-notch performances as Laurence and Fred respectively, a couple whose normal male-female relationship threatens to derail when Laurence desires to become a woman, and wants Fred to love him/her all the same.
There’s a reason to the film’s runtime—it spans ten years of their lives as they go through tumultuous times, making us feel the emotional and psychological complexities associated with being—and being with—a transgender.
One of the film’s most unforgettable scenes involves a feisty meltdown by Fred in a café when an old waitress asks one question too many of Laurence.
The film asks: can one still love another when one changes sex? But I feel the larger intent of Laurence Anyways is something else: can any relationship last?
Showing maturity beyond his years, Dolan imbues his work with rapid-fire dialogue, but within the verbal fireworks, he tries to bring calm and composure by allowing us, the audience, to observe but never judge the characters.
I think this is the film’s greatest enabler—to give us the ability to empathise, however flawed the characters are, and however uneven the film might sometimes be. It’s hard to imagine that Dolan was only 23 at the time.