You may or may not have already heard about the third feature from Quebec’s rising director Xavier Dolan. It caused a stir when it screened in the Certain Regard category at this year’s Cannes, with its leading lady stealing Best Actress within that competition, and the movie itself grabbing the Queer Palm at the same film festival.
Of course that was a few months back. Still, there’s no denying any film dealing with the effect of being trans on a heterosexual relationship is going to be remembered more clearly compared with a bog standard comedy drama confined to the regularity of ‘straight cinema’. Not least when it runs for this long.
Coming in at just shy of three hours there’s no denying Laurence Anyways is an intimate, modern love story stretched onto a grand canvas. Arguably this is the film’s biggest flaw, as there are plenty of unnecessary events that unfold within the narrative. Nevertheless, it should just about manage to hold your attention throughout, thanks at least in part to the stunning look of every single shot.
The story itself isn’t bad, either. French cinema hero Melvil Poupard stars as the eponymous Laurence, with Suzanne Clement stepping in to play the part of Frederique (bagging one of those awards in the process). The two are unarguably soul mates, but there’s one rather sizeable problem, which some may have already guessed. Namely that he really wants to be a she, and soon sets the wheels of gender realignment into motion.
Interestingly and commendably Dolan avoids what some would predict as the most obvious plot direction. Rather than being put off by this outright, Laurence’s loyal lady friend sticks around to try and make it work. As such the film is less an exploration of surgery and how people live afterwards, and more a look into a classic couple-gone-wrong domestic scene. Incapable of continuing together without fights and upset, the bond between them also appears to be unbreakable.
But it’s not all heavy discussions on sexuality, with Nathalie Baye (another regular in Gallic film) playing Laurence’s mother, a woman who’s as witty as she is blunt. Similarly, Monia Chokri does an excellent job adding extra comic relief via her sharp sarcasm, perhaps the most notable character trait of Frederique’s wholly unforgiving (but truly welcome) sister. The result is a good balance between artful pondering and realist wit that works well enough.
Throw in a hefty measure of wonderfully stylised costumes and sets (with the action taking place in 1990s Montreal), not to mention a soundtrack boasting a wonderful cast of pop players perfect for ‘camping it up’- Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Celine Dion- and you may well have a future classic of pink-leaning cinema.
Better yet, in this instance you definitely don’t have to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender to appreciate the finer points, a sure fire sign of a film that works in terms of message and aesthetic appeal, a feat few titles can ever really manage.