This month I look at what is arguably the breakthrough film for up-and-coming Quebecois filmmaker Xavier Dolan. Laurence Alia (Melvil Poupaud) is a Montreal novelist and literature teacher, who’s in a passionate relationship with Fred Belair (Suzanne Clément). One day on her birthday, Laurence reveals to Fred that she is a transgender woman, who no longer wants to live out the lie of being a man. Over the next decade, Laurence goes through her transition, which results in strain and confusion in her relationship with Fred.
Xavier Dolan was already an actor when he made his directorial debut, at the very young age of 20, with 2009’s I Killed My Mother, which was followed up year later with Heartbeats. However, it was 2012’s Laurence Anyways that put Xavier Dolan on the map, with the film winning two awards at the Cannes Film Festival and being nominated for 10 Canadian Screen Awards (winning two).
Laurence Anyways follows a transgender woman named Laurence Alia, who decides one day to stop living as a man and transition into a her true self. This comes as a shock to Laurence’s girlfriend Fred, who doesn’t really know how to react to this news. Ultimately, the film is just as much about how Fred deals with Laurence’s transition than the transition itself.
Xavier Dolan decided to set the story of Laurence Anyways in the 1990s, which was a time period when transexuality was classified as a mental illness. Indeed, not long after Laurence begins her transition, she finds herself fired from her teaching job, since she received a negative response from parents groups. Even though Laurence Anyways is both a five year old film and a period piece, The themes of the film, particularly the transphobia that Laurence experiences, is still quite relevant in today’s world.
Laurence Anyways is built around a strong performance by French actor Melvil Poupaud, who has the challenge of portraying Laurence at the various stages of her transition. Poupaud is complimented by an award-winning performance by Suzanne Clément as Laurence’s conflicted girlfriend Fred. It is interesting that even though the character is a cis female, that Dolan opted to give her a masculine short form of her full name Frédérique. This adds somewhat to the film’s overall theme of going against traditional gender roles.
Laurence Anyways remains Xavier Dolan’s longest film, tipping the scales at 2 hours and 48 minutes long. I’m not sure if the film justifies being that length, other than the fact that the film takes place over the course of a decade. Either way, the film is full of elements that Xavier Dolan would become known for, whether it be the square aspect ratio or the pop song filled soundtrack.
Xavier Dolan has quickly become one of my favourite Canadian filmmakers and I can definitely say that I was not disappointed by me going back to the film that put him on the map.