Time for Precocious Talent to
Grow Up and Knuckle Down
Melvil Poupaud as Laurence. Photo © Shayne Laverdière
When reviewing director Xavier Dolan’s last film, Les Amours Imaginaires, I wrote that his best was yet to come, just as long as he relied a little more on substance and less on style. Weighing in at a massive two hours and 40 minutes, the 23-year-old Canadian’s new movie, Laurence Anyways, which premiered in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, needs a whole lot more substance to merit its length.
Focusing on the relationship between Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) and Fred (Suzanne Clément) between 1989 and 1999 (it was a nice touch to give the man a feminine name and the woman a masculine name), Laurence’s announcement on his 30th birthday that he would like to change sex throws their previous certainties into disarray. The remainder of the film revolves less around the biological details of Laurence’s sex change than around the impact the decision has on their lives and those of their families (with Nathalie Baye in particularly fine form as Laurence’s formidable mother).
Dolan is adept at depicting the suspicious gazes of those around Laurence as he enters the intersex phase; the scene in which he first appears in women’s clothing before a university class he teaches is both poignant and chilling. This is also the only part of the movie in which the political implications of such an act are explored, as Laurence loses his job and goes on to become a successful writer.
Many stunningly beautiful images punctuate the film (the recurring motif of clothes falling from the air and the scene of Laurence and his mother sheltering from a rainstorm under an umbrella are especially memorable), and Dolan continues to pay homage to other films as he did in his two previous movies. However, despite the fact that this is the first of his films in which Dolan has not appeared as an actor, it is difficult to escape the feeling that many of the highly stylized scenes are self-indulgent and could easily have been cut; much more rigorous editing was needed to shape the work. The movie veers between scenes of extreme realism and surreal vignettes populated by grotesque characters who have little relevance to the central story. As excellent as both Poupaud and Clément are, I never fully believed in their relationship, and Poupaud does not really convince as a transgendered person.
Considering the high-profile Franco-Canadian cast and the lavish funding provided by both Canadian and French sources (no expense seems to have been spared in the making of this film), Dolan is clearly hot property in the francophone movie world. It is about time he stopped displaying his precocious talent in films produced at lightning speed and knuckled down to make more carefully crafted (and shorter) work, developed over a longer period. As the French writer Blaise Pascal so perceptively wrote, “I am sorry I have had to write you such a long letter, but I did not have the time to write a short one.”
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