Melvil Poupaud, Suzanne Clément, Nathalie Baye, Monia Chokri, Susie Almgren, Yves Jacques, Sophie Faucher, Magalie Lépine-Blondeau, David Savard, Catherine Bégin, Emmanuel Schwartz, Jacques Lavallée, Perette Souplex and Patricia Tulasne
Laurence Anyways was my first film from acclaimed young Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan. I was instantly taken by his style, a sudden interest to check out the rest of his work. At the moment, I have seen all four of his films and anticipating his fifth, "Mommy". Laurence Anyways is an ambitious film no doubt. In its scope and reach, the style and its story. Dolan constantly grows and matures with every film that he makes not only as a filmmaker but storyteller. His stylistic choices and cyclic usage of pop tunes to slow-motion scenes, close-ups and outbursts of artistic passages tend to annoy some viewers. Thus he is often described as a pretentious or self-important director. Dolan couldn't be more eager or bold with those aspects in this beautiful two hours plus feature of his. Laurence Anyways is a 2013 Canadian film which competed at the Cannes Film Festival in Un Certain Regard section a year before that. It won the actress prize of that section for its star as well as the festival's Queer Palm Award. It continued that tradition further with Toronto International Film Festival and other award ceremonies in its home-country. Laurence Anyways is a passionate decade-long portrayal of a man's inner desire to become a woman, his true self. But there is another angle to the story as well. The woman in his life, his girlfriend and companion whose life with this revelation has been turned upside down. This film is set during the late 80's and early 90's in Montréal. Laurence (Poupaud) is a 30-year-old man, a literature teacher and an award-winning novelist. Fred (Clément) and Laurence are very much in love, they are a perfect team and are inseparable. Laurence has always felt that she was born in the wrong body, her entire life a lie and now she wants to do something about it. She wants to be a woman. Fred is obviously perplexed and startled to hear such a big revelation and hence feels shattered. To Fred, the life she lived with Laurence seems to have been a lie as well. She says in the film something along the lines of... "Everything I love about you, you hate about yourself."
In the opening slow-motion sequence which we see from Laurence's perspective, he tries to dress up and go outside but is unable to feel very comfortable. His girlfriend, the fiery and compassionate girl, is there to support him. It is very big of her, a true resilient supporter of her lover. They get separated for a while but Fred feels that she should be there for Laurence, to support and encourage Laurence to dress and be the way he wants to be. That shows their true love for each other. During such complicated times when mostly people around you turn away, those who stays are the ones that matter. Laurence dressed up as a woman shows up to work one day, things seems to go well until 'she' is fired for the concerns that parents and administration shows. This turmoil slowly takes over their companionship as well, the on and off relationship seems to have come to a stand still. Fred leaves Laurence because of the severe depression, the toll that this seems to be taking on her. But are they really so easily separable? Of course not. As the film advances, this impossible love story of inseparable people goes through many shades and colors. Laurence Anyways isn't narrated in your typical linear fashion. Dolan loves to concentrate more on the essential elements of his films rather than obsessing over plot advancement. Such amalgam of various aspects and elements makes up for a somewhat bumpy but overall rewarding ride. By now, Dolan has found his voice. A different set of frequencies where he gets to playfully operate without any sort of constriction and sets of rules to bog him down. He feels the need to just fly away without caring about the extent of it because he doesn't want anything to cage down either his film or his vision. It's rare to see such growth or a distinct style in a young filmmaker these days let alone the ferocity and sheer confidence with which he executes. Overlooking its small flaws for a second, Laurence Anyways is the kind of film any experienced filmmaker would wish they have made in their early years.
There is a shot in the film where we see Laurence sitting in her classroom. We see the back of her head and the blurry foreground of the students at sides. Laurence is sitting with an unease and discomfort touching the back of his neck. You see that she has attached paperclips to her nails, enviously looking at her female students. That image speaks everything. Cinematographer Yves Bélanger does a gusto job in capturing what Dolan intended to. From such simple but delicate moments speaking volumes to exuberant stylistic fireworks. Utilizing cinema as an art form, a visual kinetic blast of emotions and a swirling, continues mode for many artists to self-express. Images bursts and pops out at irregular instances, never straining the film but always enticing our senses and remaining true to the passion that exhibits within the film and the characters it occupies. The editing in this film one can argue isn't properly done or something such a grand film deserved. I would actually agree with them. With so much time at hand and the eagerness to show all that he can, Dolan seems swept away and thus occasionally putting his very vision at risk of being looked down upon. You can understand his drive and respect it but some of the more exaggerated passages or drawn out special moments comes across as time-consuming. They don't always get to say or make us feel the intended emotional or visceral impact. But those are the only issues I have with this film. Because surrounding these rough patches is an infectiously stirring story told with as much intensity and energy.
Melvil Poupaud does a really fine job in the film, occasionally rising above but mostly an okay performer. I wasn't impressed by his work in this film but that didn't matter much as far as his character, the central figure is concerned. I mean you feel and believe Laurence, she might not have the best actor portraying her but in the hands of Dolan, that is just not very significant. But make way for Suzanne Clément please. She is incredible in this film to a point that her portrayal, performance and character is what you take away with you the most. The scene in the café where Fred bursts out on an older waiter is explosive. Explosive and just out of this world. Fred's problems and her issues are very much felt thanks to Clément. She gives a magnificent performance, so strong in every moment and a perfect match for Dolan and the character she plays. The production design, costumes and make-up work is vibrant and very distinct. Dolan doesn't just creates characters but an entire world around them. A world and its inhibited elements representing the characters, moods and their personalities. The use of pop tunes in certain slow motion sequences, nobody can do that like Dolan does. I mean that has now become one of his most identifiable qualities. He is so pitch perfect with it. His films seem to exhibit certain qualities of other filmmakers like Wong Kar Wai for instances. Specially in those moments but always an original voice and a standout overall. The visual composition of this film specially is different from his first two films. The palette and look come across as more grounded cinematically but always very colorful and vibrant as oppose to the more 'created' or 'constructed' moments of his earlier efforts. Here he is working through his characters and his subject. Trying best to capture them and show us their inner worlds splattered on-screen. His camera places his subjects in a direct forward/backward manner. They are either facing the camera (not looking directly of course) or have their backs towards it. Just like the narration, Laurence being interviewed by a journalist, the camera captures everything in a documentary-like feel. Yes, Laurence is being interviewed as well and those moments towards the end where the journalist directly talks to Laurence felt a little far-fetched to be honest.
How can you not be moved by this beautiful and heartfelt film? Such a passionate love story, a witty and complex drama. A transgender woman and her personal struggles, coming to terms with her true identity and life which is not an easy task but an imminent as well as important one. The difficulty she faces during this transformation with the love of her life. The strain that this puts in between them. The longing that they both equally feel for each other as time passes no matter how much their lives have changed being apart with other people. The hostility and ignorance Laurence in particular had to face from her family and friends. How this society never lives and let live. A film that encourages open-mindedness, taking pride in and with who we truly are. Presenting such a clear but complicated vision of love and romance. How can that final scene of the film, which shows how Laurence and Fred first met, not leave you feeling deeply sad and moved? A beautiful way to end this film. A grand and operatic film from a young visionary, showing messy life of a messy couple set in a messy world lived by messy people.