Life is not so black or white as some make it out to be, there is grey area and that is what Laurence Anyways is about.
Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan is back with his third film Laurence Anyways, which attempts to show that gender is not everything when it comes to a relationship. The film did well at the Cannes Film Festival this year as it picked up three nominations and won two awards, one of which was a well-deserved Best Actress for Suzanne Clement. Aside from a few missteps the film can still be appreciated, especially if you liked Dolan’s previous work, but it is not his best outing (no pun intended).
The opening sequence of a woman walking down the street sets the tone of the film as the camera focuses on all the bystander’s faces as they stare intensely at her. The camera only follows the woman as to not reveal the identity or the reason why people seem to be confused at what they see. Just as the woman is about to turn around the scene ends in an ambiguous manner.
Laurence Anyways then leaps back ten years prior to the present, showing the relationship between Laurence Alia (Melvil Poupaud) and Fred Belair (Suzanne Clement). The two of them seem happy sharing their lives together. Laurence is a high school teacher that recently received an award for his excellence. Fred works in the television field. Both enjoy smoking marijuana and making lists together such as what limits their pleasure as human beings.
Things take a drastic turn when Laurence drops the bomb on Fred that he was meant to live the life of a woman instead of a man. For someone to hear this news after being with that person for two years has to come as a complete shock. Fred is of course shocked but handles it surprisingly calmly. She accepts his needs as does her best to help Laurence during the transformation.
When he announces this to his parents he gets a totally different reaction. Instead of embracing his decision, his mother calls him insane and says that his father will not accept him. She does not ask questions, she seems uninterested in talking about it at all. In fact, she says they will not support him if he gets into trouble, their door is closed for him.
The transition period will not be an easy one. Over the course of ten years, we see the struggles Laurence endures in his professional, family and relationship life. Instead of seeking sympathy from the viewer the film sensibly shows both the bad and good of his character.
One scene that stuck out to me was when the film subtly hints at the transformation would take place later. Laurence is sitting in class watching his students take a test. He seems to be under stress as the back of his neck is sweating profusely. He looks around the room and focuses on some of the females playing with their hair. On each one of his fingers are paper clips that look an awful lot like long feminine finger nails.
Even leaving out the subject of transsexual out, you could easily confuse Laurence Anyways for a Pedro Almodóvar film because of the artful backdrops, contrast of colors, and patterns found throughout. The repeated use of slow motion may frustrate some viewers as it happens often enough to make the film feel slow. Whether you believe they work or not, you cannot discredit how beautiful the cinematography was.
Speaking about the film’s length, I found the first hour and the last hour both to be good. It is that time in the middle where the nearly 3 hour runtime feels sluggish. The point of the film is to follow Laurence through ten years to show that society and people around him still have not accepted him over all of these years. I think it could have easily achieved that with some of the scenes edited down a bit.
Some of the issues I had with the film were with some of the directorial decisions Dolan made. The biggest offender would be from the unneeded journalist who ends up being narrator of the film. Another part that just did not seem to fit is when the butterfly comes out of Laurence’s mouth. I appreciated the metaphor but thought this was a little tacky.
What I appreciated most about Laurence Anyways is that Dolan decides to examine, rather than defend, the transformation of one’s gender. The film does not try to preach as much as you might expect it to. The film more or less shows that everyone is human and everyone has flaws which makes us human. Life is not so black or white as some make it out to be, there is grey area and that is what Laurence Anyways is about.