Laurence Anyways: a third film about the third sex
by Domenico La Porta
19/05/2012 - Quebecois director Xavier Dolan was only 19 when his first film, I killed My Mother, won awards at the Directors' Fortnight. He returned to Cannes in 2010 with Heartbeats, and is now back again at the Certain Regard with his third and most ambitious film so far. Laurence Anyways [trailer] is a Canadian-French co-production shot in Montréal, and a new landmark in the path of a great film director in the making.
Portraying the decade during which he became a man, Xavier Dolan tells the story of Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) who becomes a woman. But Laurence is not gay, and this quest for identity includes a turbulent love story with Fred (Suzanne Clement) that continuously explodes and implodes under social pressures and the couple's fundamental questioning. Dolan has chosen the 1990s as the backdrop to his screenplay, as the story is about evolution, social acceptability, and the space left to the marginalised, including members of the third sex. It's the evolution that our society experienced from the end of the 1980s to the beginning of the noughties. Unlike the characters they play, Melvil Poupaud and Suzanne Clement work well together, and Natalie Baye is a great addition to the cast as a mother who feigns disinterest in her son's destiny.
Choosing a 4:3 image format, Xavier Dolan manages to reconstruct an era through image (format, grain, costumes) and sound, and this is emphasised through music video moments in which music takes over and images go into slow motion. These ambiance moments - also found in the work of fellow Canadian Jean-Marc Vallée (Cafe de Flore [trailer]) - together contribute to a form that might displease audiences who prefer traditional structures, but they do also allow for pure demonstration - whether or not this is appreciated by the audience. Behind it all, the director is pursuing his reflection about impossible love, the love that we run after when it is unobtainable, but let go as soon as we catch it. This time, Dolan does not feature in his own film, but this is quite understandable considering he is already the film's director, executive producer, screenwriter, editor, and even costume designer. Dolan the director therefore continues to develop his art, although not in equal measures for each of the roles mentioned above. Laurence Anyways provides questions, but no answers. The film is bold, although not quite fine-tuned enough to have been allowed to compete for a Palme d'Or in Cannes' official competition this year. Perhaps, like a vintage wine, Dolan is still a little too young.
Laurence Anyways portrays an era that today's under-20s never knew, but with which Xavier Dolan, aged 23, identifies himself enough to evoke it with a certain amount of intimacy. In his film, he offers us an intimate portrait of a character, as well as their gender and life choice, whose appearance means social acceptance never goes beyond a "certain regard".
(Translated from French)