Opening with the powerful base of If I Had A Heart by Fever Ray, Laurence Anyways hits Un Certain Regard section of Cannes with the statement that by now, 23-year-old ambitious and eccentric French Canadian filmmaker, Xavier Dolan has mastered the use of his trademark slow-mos, and is set to a career that is worth keeping an eye on. It is his third full-feature after winning Regards Jeunes with both I Killed My Mother and Heartbeats, demonstrating the already familiar proneness to pompous imagery, direct visual metaphors, emotional intensity and the use of contemporary music. Running to tremendous 159 minutes, it tells a tragic story of unconsumable love and passion between modest yet self-affirmed teacher and poet Laurence (Melvil Poupaud), and his fiery free-spirited girlfriend, assistant director Frederique (Suzanne Clement).
Laurence and Fred share passion, youthfulness and depth of understanding that their peer couples can only be jealous of. However – and that’s the quirk of the story – one day Laurence confesses he has always felt to have been born a woman, and wants to continue his life as one. In the hands of any other director (except perhaps Pedro Almodovar) this premise would sound too ridiculous to be handled in any sensible and emotionally involving way, with the whole story failing momentarily. But Dolan manages to reveal the inner truth that feels authentic to the situation, and tackles every complexity it would involve had it happened for real.
While seeming a bit pretentious and aggressively post-Godardian in its way of shot construction and dialogue editing (and excessive smoking as well, as if it’s the 1960s again when lighting up a cigarette in a charismatic way could carry all the meaning you need), Laurence Anyways is too clever and truthful behind its stylistic tricks to resist buying into. As Laurence starts dressing up as a woman, Frederique stays by his side and supports him – bigger empathy and devotion is hard to imagine. However, coping with the situation becomes increasingly harder as Laurence is fired from his job and beaten up on the street on the same day. Having decided she cannot possibly handle more bohemian adventure and hostility from their environment, Fred eventually takes up with another man, and tries to begin a normal family life. Laurence, meanwhile, plunges into explorations of his own identity, and gangs up with a bunch of eccentric and decadent transvestite intellectuals calling themselves The Five Roses. However, neither of them can continue their lives knowing for certain that they are each other’s “only ones”, so they try again. And again. And again.
The film constantly fluctuates in its emotional intensity, and despite being a story of constant failure, it keeps succeeding in convincing that true love will survive no matter what – which is the only justification for such length. Poupaud and Clement give all they’ve got in their magnificent performances, with Clement unafraid to turn ugly all the way when getting hurt, and Poupaud managing to maintain a colourful character without basing it on the cliches of camp. The cinematography is distinctive and well worked through, and the soundtrack resonates with the image, drifting into a music vide-esque sequence every once in a while – which is all but annoying. The fans of art film and lovers of profound human drama will definitely find Laurence Anyways really enjoyable.
Watch the trailer of Laurence Anyways here: