The 2012 film Laurence Anyways introduces the raw directing and producing talent of Xavier Dolan. For his third feature film, 23-year-old Dolan has produced a beautifully cast, shot and designed film that sensitively and compassionately portrays a love story unique to our time. Released in May, it was the well-deserved winner of Best Canadian Feature Film at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, a nominee for Best Picture at the 2013 Canadian Screen Awards and a competitor in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2012 Cannes International Film Festival.
Set in Montreal and Trois Rivieres in the ’90s, this film raises many questions of societal hostility to those who are considered different — particularly toward transsexual people. Melvil Poupaud plays Laurence Alia, a literature professor and accomplished writer who, on his 30th birthday, reveals his longstanding desire to become a woman. His lover and soulmate Fred, played by award winning actress Suzanne Clement, is faced with the dilemma of living life with her partner, despite social stigma, or leading a normal life. Through the many transformations of Laurence and his success and glory at the end of the movie, the audience comes to fully understand his desire for self-fulfilment.
The director’s talent lies in the stylistic way he reveals the story. Frame after frame is beautifully composed with subtle and precise deliberation. The lighting, colour, sound and framing are intelligently designed into one comprehensive canvas. Laurence’s confession to Fred takes place in a carwash, with water pouring on all sides, and this is when their struggles begin. This cacophony is contrasted against the scene that shows Laurence walking into his college classroom dressed as a woman for the first time — instead of noise, it is silence that follows. His students initially seem to accept him, but his euphoria fades and the lighting hardens when he faces job loss and rejection.
The colours red, brown and yellow all play significant roles in defining characters and feelings. Red is constantly a backdrop and associated with Fred’s passion, ferocity and pain as she and Laurence find it difficult to mend their relationship in the face of social stigma, transphobia and family pressures. Dolan is able to portray the complexity of the feelings and emotions of every character, and the audience sympathizes with Fred’s heartbreak but also feels a sense of hope and respect for Laurence’s determination to live the last half of his life as a woman.
The end of the movie flashes back to when they first met, and the viewers gain an insightful understanding of the problems and struggles of their 10-year romance — problems that we all share while maintaining long and meaningful relationships.
Absorbing and intense, Laurence Anyways has succeeded in asking deeper questions about love and sexuality. It does what all movies should aim to do: challenge norms and leave viewers more aware but also hopeful. As a Canadian director, only good things are to come for Dolan as his talent is recognized on a global scale.