I only ended up seeing one Canadian film this year, and that was Laurence Anyways. I’m so very pleased that it worked with my schedule, and that I was also able to attend the premier screening. I was not familiar with the director’s work, and so I had no expectations regarding style. As it turns out style is very important to Xavier Dolan. Laurence Anyways feels in many way like an art house film, but with wider scope and more ambition.
The story is of a man named Laurence, and his romance with a woman named Fred. Their love is wild, tempestuous, and they cling to each other like drowning people in a sea of conformists. But despite 8 years together, Laurence has been hiding from a huge truth, that he is trans and should be living as a woman. As Laurence describes it, “he” has squandered “her” life, essentially stealing it by denying it for fear of ostracism. When Laurence finally confesses to Fred it is a violent confrontation. She essentially goes through the five stages of grief, with Acceptance resulting in the decision to stay and support Laurence.
Despite the story taking place in the late 80’s and early 90’s Laurence’s transition goes relatively smoothly. Laurence’s mother is slow to accept the change, but ultimately Laurence’s free way of living inspires her to find her own. But Fred is unable to find the same peace and their relationship dissolves when she takes an uncomplicated lover. But like moths to a flame they can’t help rekindling their romance. In some ways it brings to mind Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind – two lovers hopelessly entwined despite the damage they do to one another.
Strangely the movie actually focuses very little on Laurence and the transition. It is accepted so readily by friends and coworkers that it is almost a non-issue. Conflict only comes from Fred. And while she could easily have come across as intolerant she is heart-breakingly real in her search for normalcy. She is a far more sympathetic character, and when she finally breaks free from Laurence it feels good. Suzanne Clément sold me on her role so completely that I know I would watch her in anything.
Again, director Dolan takes imagery and style very seriously. The film is rich, gorgeous, and it comes as little surprise that it won the TIFF people’s Choice Award for Best Canadian Feature. Clocking in at nearly 3 hours it is quite the time investment, but one that pays off. I have a feeling that it will be on the syllabus for many a future film studies course.