By Anna Bielak | May 19, 2012
Director: Xavier Dolan
Writer: Xavier Dolan
Starring: Nathalie Baye, Melvil Poupaud, Monia Chokri, Suzanne Clément, Yves Jacques, Guylaine Tremblay, Catherine Bégin, Sophie Faucher
I would like to dance to Xavier Dolan movies — especially Laurence Anyways, which screened in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section — I love the rhythm, I like the aesthetics, I appreciate the good companionship; yet, Laurence causes me some troubles. I gave Dolan a lot of credit after watching his truly amazing Les amours imaginaires (2010). Today, I am fond of his latest movie but I am considering the French-Canadian director as an author. Watching Laurence as an individual piece of art might develop into annoyance or into deep fascination. That opinion is good enough to make one go to the cinema, spend nearly three hours of their life there and decide on which side it is better to be –- among those who think that the story is hot or those who judge Laurence as a cold, hard-headed and never-ending story. There is nothing in between but me…
I am in the middle of the road between hatred and love. If I choose the latter, I should view Laurence with all of the benefits of the inventory; yet, I cannot do this. I start with recalling my memories of Les amours imaginaires.
In the opening sequence of Laurence, a woman walks down the street, people look at her, viewers follow her behind her back. Fever Ray’s “If I Had a Heart” reverberates in the air. Shall she turn away in slow motion? Would we see the confused face of Monia Chokri? No, that would be too much pleasure. Dolan gives the viewers a taste of what he does best -– his style, point of view, and the feeling of eroticism. Yet, after that very promising prologue, Dolan crosses the border of taste too many times and in too many directions.
Let’s stay with Laurence (Melvil Poupad) for a little while. He is a teacher in high school; he lives with his girlfriend Fred (Suzanne Clément), a television producer. We are in the 1990s. They have a colorful, extravagant life, which Dolan exhibits within the frames by adding red, blue and yellow filters to the images. Dolan edits his scenes in the style of music videos. He juxtaposes my world to Laurence’s disco-punk lifestyle. Things are simple until Laurence starts to feel that everything up until now was nothing more than a lie. Now in his 30s, the day has come when Laurence discovers that he has always been a woman. What about Fred? She loves Laurence — the man; it is not easy for her, yet she accepts his inner needs and new, transsexual appearance. If I continue looking at them after Laurence’s coming-out, I discover that this colorful, original girl starts to systematically vanish while Laurence’s new identity is fostered. Under the control of the vintage-loving director, Fred resigns from her unique clothes and style, and begins to wear neuter jumpers and ties up her red hair.
Fred would have been instantly wiped out of the film if she left Laurence for someone else, especially if the narrative chose not to follow her. This is when Dolan’s film begins to get worse. Something more than just their relationship has ended (and we are only in the middle of the story!); the protagonists must choose if they want simplicity in their lives or if they prefer beat-style artistic chaos. These two options are given to the audience as well. I wanted to stay with Laurence but I understood Fred’s doubts. I needed help from Dolan. I wanted him to help me through all of this madness. Instead, I notice his smiling face among the guests of a party that Fred attends. He looks briefly into my eyes and turns away, leaving me with myself in the middle of the road between hatred and love. He kept the streets empty for me — should I be thankful?