A lot has been said about young Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan, ranging from being deemed a wunderkind auteur to a pretentious Almodovar mimic. However, neither truly does this up and coming film director the justice that his small but powerful canon deserves.
After debuting, ostensibly, with his second film, Heartbeats, his “first” film I Killed My Mother really arrived in theaters stateside earlier this year, to much praise. Now, he’s back with his latest film, a devastatingly powerful romantic drama known as Laurence Anyways, which is without a doubt his most assured and brazenly singular vision to date. It’s also one of the year’s best films.
Clocking in at just shy of three hours in length, the film follows the story of Laurence, a man who is attempting to come to terms with the fact that he feels as though he’s truly a woman trapped within the body of a man. However, instead of telling the story of a transgendered woman and her relationship to the outside world, Dolan goes a smaller, more moving route.
Laurence leans on Fred, Laurence’s close friend, who is the first person the news is broken to. A touching look at a relationship and a much broader meditation on gender and what truly forms self-identity, Laurence Anyways is both Dolan’s biggest film and also his most emotionally resonant and powerful.
The greatest aspect of Dolan’s newest film is its ability to steer clear of becoming a genuine issue picture. In the most broad sense of the concept, the film is “about” a transgendered woman, but it never truly focuses its spotlight directly on the topic of being transgendered. Instead, Dolan is more interested in crafting a drama that looks at these two lovers, who are changed by the weight of choices made by both parties, not just Laurence. Dolan, who also wrote the screenplay, covers a 10 year span of this relationship, that finds two soul mates forever changed by a series of events that lay upon the shoulders of both sides. A beautifully toned, intimate drama, the film has no interest in becoming something more, a focal point for a social movement, instead, it uses this one admission by the lead character to set the stage for one of this year’s most entrancing romantic dramas. And in turn, it may very well stand as one of the most affecting LGBT dramas to date.
It also helps that he got two of this year’s best performances to set the stage. The film stars Melvil Poupaud and Suzanne Clement, both of whom are revelations here. Laurence and Fred respectively, the two leads each turn in striking performances, which are truly kinetic when paired together. Building a lively sense of real chemistry from frame one, the lead performances are unlike any we’ve seen so far in 2013. There is a stark sense of melancholy and real emotional drama here, that, without these two performances, would not be half as palpable as it truly is. Dolan, at a ripe 24 years old, churns in a top tier script, but without these pitch perfect performances, the film wouldn’t be a hundredth as great as it truly is.
But it would still be just as pretty.
Very much a director inspired by a filmmaker like Almodovar, Xavier Dolan proves with this picture that he’s a filmmaker entirely his own. With neon-fueled photography from cinematographer Yves Belanger and music from artist Noia, the film blends Dolan’s love for natural lighting and slow motion drama sequences, turning it into an intimate yet seemingly experimental meditation on a relationship on the brink. With both of Dolan’s previous films seemingly hell bent on keeping the audience at arm’s length, Laurence Anyways is thrillingly intimate in comparison, even if the running time nears three hours. Blending startling naturalism with flights of visual fancy that will have any cinephile ready to bow at Dolan’s altar, Laurence Anyways is a bravura masterwork from a director who, aesthetically, is leaps and bounds beyond his years.
However, what makes this film one of the year’s best is that Dolan, a director best known for his singular style, is truly more interested in crafting a resonant emotional drama than simply a stylistic experiment. Laurence Anyways is a film that, like most of Dolan’s pictures, meanders a tad bit, but unlike his previous two films, is a perfect blend of aesthetic and narrative weight. The next logical step for a director of Dolan’s caliber, the film may be a hefty watch for the uninitiated viewer, but as gorgeous a film as we’ve seen all year, Dolan proves once again that he’s a director to keep an eye on. And even that doesn’t do him justice. He’s as exciting a director as his generation has to offer.