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November 7, 2013

Laurence Anyways

by Franz Patrick

Laurence Anyways (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) bravely, almost casually, confesses to his girlfriend, Fred (Suzanne Clément), that for thirty-five years, he has pretended–and still pretending–to be someone he is not and he has had it. He claims to have been born in the wrong body and so he is going to start living as a woman: dressing like one, acting like one, completely being one. In 1989, a transgender person is a foreign concept to many and getting judgmental looks from strangers, friends, and family is going to be the least of his worries.

Most of the time when a director dares to release a movie that is over two-and-a-half hours long, I think of three things: he (or she) has something important to say, it must be blockbuster season, or he has a really big ego. And since “Laurence Anyways” is neither a big budget summer flick nor a serious work of art with anything groundbreaking to show à la Wolfgang Petersen’s “Das Boot” or Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” it leaves us the third option and that is almost always not a good thing.

The film, written and directed by Xavier Dolan, has no reason to run for so long. While the subject is extremely relevant and, in my opinion, will continue to be an issue worth addressing for years to come, the characters are never made particularly interesting. We wish to invest in the story emotionally but it is lazy in that it is plagued with repetition: an argument ensues, a period of time passes by, a moment of reconnection, rinse and repeat. The story begins in 1989 and ends a decade later. I salute anyone who can sit through the entire picture without tuning out.

As expected, it is beautiful to look at. If the writer-director has proven anything with his past work, it is that he has an almost Almodóvar-ian knack for choosing color and texture palettes that work extremely well together. Though not as ironic or in control as the Spanish master, when Dolan gets it right, the images he shows make a lasting impact. However, here, the images are beautiful but often empty, almost self-indulgent.

For instance, there is a scene set in a living room in which one of the characters becomes drenched by a waterfall that comes from the ceiling. Of course it is meant to be symbolic but I did not process it that way. I thought it was comedic and pretentious. It was like watching a commercial for a new brand of water bottle that is about to hit the stores in a couple of months. Though the character might be going through heavy emotions during that scene, it does not work because there is no bridge between us and the person on screen who is supposed to be suffering or is in a state of shock.

I like to look at faces and I expected to get plenty of close-ups. As in Dolan’s “J’ai tué ma mère” and “Les amours imaginaires,” when the camera focuses on a face, it communicates plenty. A most memorable sequences involves Laurence, her first day of dressing up as a woman in public, walking down the hallway and students–male and female–check her out. One cannot help but wonder if the material might have worked better as a cheeky comedy-drama than a straight-faced attempt at a magnus opus.


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