Directed by: Xavier Dolan.
Written by: Xavier Dolan.
Starring: Melvil Poupaud (Laurence Alia), Suzanne Clément (Fred Belair), Nathalie Baye (Julienne Alia), Monia Chokri (Stéfanie Belair), Susan Almgren (Journaliste), Yves Jacques (Michel Lafortune), Sophie Faucher (Andrée Belair), Magalie Lépine Blondeau (Charlotte), Catherine Bégin (Mamy Rose), Emmanuel Schwartz (Baby Rose), Jacques Lavallée (Dada Rose), Perrette Souplex (Tatie Rose), Patricia Tulasne (Shookie Rose), David Savard (Albert), Monique Spaziani (Francine).
What makes Xavier Dolan the most exciting young Canadian director working right now is his complete and utter fearlessness. At the age of 24, he has already made four acclaimed films, and while they are all undeniably his films, they are also very different in many ways as well. His debut film, I Killed My Mother (2009) was shot mainly with a handheld camera, and evoked the Dardenne brothers and other neo-realists. His follow-up Heartbeats (2010) was a stylized romantic comedy with echoes of Woody Allen. Tom at the Farm (2013), which I saw at TIFF this year, was a Hitchcock like thriller. His third film, Laurence Anyways, is an ambitious, three hour, decade spanning story about a man who wants to become a woman, and his complicated relationship with the woman he is with when makes the decision. The film is, undeniably, a little too long – and tries to cram too much in to its runtime – but it is also undeniably his most audacious film to date – an attempt make something that perhaps Rainer Werner Fassbinder would have done.
The film stars Melvil Poupand as Laurence Alia – a high school teacher who has dreams of becoming a writer. When we first meet him, he is a man, who is dating Fred (Suzanne Clement) – a woman who works as a costume designer for TV and movies. They seem happy together – at least Fred thinks so – until one day, seemingly out of nowhere, Laurence announces he wants to become a woman. He still loves Fred – he isn’t “gay” in that he wants to be with other men, and he hopes that Fred will understand and support his decision. Amazingly, she does try for a while to do just that. But just as Laurence cannot deny his feelings that he wants to be a woman, Fred cannot deny her feelings that she wants to be with a man.
The film is well acted by its two leads – especially Clement, whose Fred is confused from beginning to end in the film. She loves Laurence – in many ways they are perfect for each other, but she just cannot stay with him. Her attempts to go “straight” – with a wealthy man, in a big house in the suburbs – don’t really work either because it’s too conventional, too dull, too boring for her (you can track her progression by looking at how her fiery, dyed red hair changes throughout the movie). I think some of what Fred does late in the film doesn’t make a whole lot of sense – only someone who does not have kids could write some of the things Dolan has her say about her son – but Clement delivers an excellent performance throughout. For his part, Poupaud does a very interesting job with Laurence as well – he doesn’t change his voice, and he doesn’t become a wholly different character through the course of the movie. He remains Laurence – now, that just means he is a woman. Some will complain that the movie doesn’t really show his transformation – there are no surgeries, no hormones taken through the course of the movie – but I don’t think that was what Dolan was attempting to show in the film. He wanted to show this complicated love story, which is what he does. I also found it refreshing that Dolan didn’t feel the need to make Laurence into some sort of saint or martyr – he remains a complicated character – one that isn’t all that likable at times, but one we always understand. It takes Laurence’s decision at face value.
The film, it must be said, far too long. There isn’t a whole lot of plot to the film truth be told – it just seems like Dolan was a little too in love with his characters, and didn’t want to leave them, so the films clocks in at nearly three hours – and you feel that length in the film’s second half, as Dolan delays the inevitable for far too long. Yet the film is also a technical marvel – hyper stylized, full of garish colors and shots that also somehow manages to never go too far over the top.
The film feels like another step forward for Dolan. I still don’t think he has made a truly great film yet (and Tom at the Farm actually feels like a step backwards) – and yet the one thing that remains clear to me after seeing each one of Dolan’s four films to date is that one day he will make a truly great film. He’s got a lot of time to get there – he’s way ahead of any other 24 year old working right now.