“Laurence Anyways” – film review Angeleka Film Center
by: Eric J. Grimm
Laurence Anyways. 2012. Not rated. Written and directed by Xavier Dolan. Starring Melvil Poupaud and Suzanne Clement. French with English subtitles.
The romantic epic, most prominently exemplified by films like ‘Gone with the Wind’ and ‘Doctor Zhivago,’ has been largely ignored as a genre in the 21st Century. Québécois director Xavier Dolan’s third film, ‘Laurence Anyways,’ embraces the structure of the genre in order to tell a story that bucks convention even as its universal truths explode on the screen in grand cinematic fashion. Clocking in at two hours and forty minutes, the film covers ten years in two lovers’ lives, focusing only on the most important and formative events which see them making a difficult transition into adulthood and trying to hold on to each other.
Laurence (Melvil Popaud) is a high school literature teacher who lives with Fred, short for Frederique (Suzane Clemente), a production assistant. They live passionately, smoking weed and making lists of things that turn them off. In September of 1989, Laurence reveals to Fred that he has long felt that he was born in the wrong body and he will soon take the steps to become a woman. Laurence is still attracted to women and deeply in love with Fred. She decides to stick with him because she loves him and partly as a way of inserting herself into a cultural revolution of the late eighties and early nineties. As devoted as she is to Laurence, Fred struggles with her needs and desires and the two find it difficult to stay on the same page as they grow up.
Xavier Dolan is only 24 years old, but his output is impressive and his vision is limitless. On a budget of $8,000,000, he creates a visual experience that rivals more expensive productions. ‘Laurence Anyways’ is peppered with beautiful fantasy sequences, but its strongest visual moments occur when Laurence and Fred are navigating through their complicated on-again-off-again relationship. Their faces are often partially obscured or darkly lit, placing focus on the dialogue. Dolan, who also wrote the film, designed the costumes, and worked on the English translation of the film, knows how to frame stunning shots and balance them with minimalist dialogue-driven scenes. He also takes great care with the selection of both classical music and eighties and nineties pop music from Depeche Mode, The Cure, and Duran Duran among others.
In a film teeming with aesthetic pleasure, Suzanne Clemente’s performance is the striking centerpiece. She seamlessly moves from joy to heartbreak throughout with the energy and skill of a seasoned professional. It is one of the great screen performances of recent memory and it is a shame that it might go largely unseen given the film’s limited publicity in the states.
‘Laurence Anyways’ is, unfortunately, only playing in the smallest theater at the Angelika Film Center. It should be seen on a larger screen to enjoy Dolan’s impressive cinematic achievement.