By: Henry J. Fromage (A Toast) –
Canadian director Xavier Dolan is 24 years old. He made his first film before he was 20. By 21 he had a film accepted at Cannes (not In Competition, but that’s more a function of reputation than quality).
At 23, I thought fedoras were cool and wrote poetry nobody read
Laurence Anyways was Dolan’s second go-round at Cannes, again out of competition. Perhaps a three hour relationship drama about a male to female transsexual and her girlfriend delivered by a 23 year old struck the selection committee as pretentious, but it’s not pretension if you can back it up. The film spans ten years in the relationship of Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) and his girlfriend Fred (Suzanne Clement) as he comes to terms with who he really is and she struggles to adjust to the changes in both of their lives.
Like this, but juusst a tad more realistic
I really don’t know where to start with this. Every. single. element. of Laurence Anyways is just stunningly good. I’m a bit of an auteur-theory apologist, so the first laurels must go to Xavier Dolan. To see someone so young, but so supremely confident in their abilities and able to so deftly mix and balance whimsical, fantastical romantic imagery and utterly authentic writing and performances just leaves me (nearly) without words. His command of soapy drama and a colorful, larger than life aesthetic may tempt comparisons to someone like Pedro Almodovar, but as much as I love that Spanish master of cinema, Laurence Anyways is already better than anything Almodovar’s ever done. It’s staggering to imagine what Dolan might accomplish in a career as long as his.
Please don’t sic Banderas on me, Mr. Almodovar
The praise for this film can’t all be laid at Dolan’s feet, of course. His cinematographer, Yves Belanger, also has to be taken into account. When the shots in Laurence Anyways are good (and they very nearly all are), fuck, they’re good. Like sitting, transfixed, with a childlike smile full of glee and wonder good. The score, by Canadian indie band Noia, couldn’t be a more perfect complement to the sumptuous, incredible images, and the costuming and hairstyling absolutely delights in its late 80s/early 90s confines.
The acting, oh, the acting. While it’s unlikely to come to pass, I’ve seen a few folks call it a crime if Suzanne Clement doesn’t get Best Actress recognition, and her calling-card scene, in which all of her frustration and anger at her impossible position and a world that is too ignorant or close-minded to understand spills over in an apoplectic rage at a diner, is as powerful as any gold statue-delivering scene I can remember over the last decade or so. Melvil Poupaud, in the film’s title role, is every bit as good, and beyond the surface challenge of embodying a character that’s physically one sex and mentally the other, he is able to communicate all of the difficulties in love and society this causes him with aching realism, without ever losing the beautifully optimistic human being at his character’s core.
It’s that enduring hope and humanism that really separates the film as well. Beyond all of the particulars, this film is an epic love story, but a heart-breakingly real one. Sure, in life, and love, not all endings are happy ones, all tidy and nice. Laurence Anyways shows that regardless of the outcome, and all of the struggle leading up to it, that love, and that life, truly are beautiful.
To give you an idea of how good that is, I haven’t given A Toast to a non-documentary (I’m more lenient on those for some reason) since… Hanna in April 2010. Laurence Anyways is just that good.
Take a Drink: for every shot you could frame and throw up on a wall
Take a Drink: whenever someone can’t handle Laurence’s change
Do a Shot: whenever Laurence and Fred “love-talk” (others may say “obnoxiously”)