Love, in Laurence Anyways, is a story that goes on too long, and transcends all things: gender, sex, violence, discrimination, and the cruelty of a world not yet primed to understand. Starting December 1st 2016, Filmatique releases its fifth film, Laurence Anyways by Xavier Dolan.
Laurence Anyways: Xavier Dolan's Transgender Love Epic
Laurence Anyways / Xavier Dolan / 2012, Cannes, Hamburg, Toronto, Vancouver / 168’
Laurence is a respected literature professor who decides to embark on the transition from man to woman in Xavier Dolan’s third feature film, Laurence Anyways.
However probing of identity this topic may seem, it is love that captures Dolan’s attention— the love Laurence maintains for Frédérique, who craves the arms of a man; the love Frédérique maintains for Laurence, though he can’t continue living life as anything other than a woman.
Love that transforms dreary Montreal streets and bleak winter vistas with moments of magic— water flooding into a living room from a book of poetry, fluorescent clothes raining from the sky when the two reunite.
Xavier Dolan & the Queer Palm: Cinema as Art vs. Artifact
Xavier Dolan's infamous refusal to collect the Queer Palme awarded Laurence Anyways at Cannes proved controversial among renowned film critics, yet simultaneously sparked a more expansive inquiry into the role of queer prizes at festivals:
- Why must films with queer themes be relegated to a separate category?
- Why can’t they be judged by the same criteria as other films?
An exclusive essay from Filmatique’s head curator:
French-Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan is a veritable wunderkind of art-house cinema. He directed J'ai tué ma mère (2009), his first feature, at the age of 19— he has directed six features since, four of which premiered at Cannes, one at Venice, with his English-language debut currently in production. At Cannes alone he has won Best Film at Quinzaine des Réalisateurs, the Queer Palm, the Grand Prix, the Grand Jury Prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury as well as serving on the Competition Jury in 2015.
Xavier Dolan’s oeuvre demonstrates a mastery of aesthetics, emotional force and narrative authenticity— his films mine the intimate emotional nuances of everyday life, elevating each gesture, each encounter to the transcendent. Indeed, Laurence Anyways was the very first film Filmatique acquired.
Laurence Anyways traces an impossible love story between a woman named Fred (Suzanne Clément) and Laurence, a transgender woman (Melvil Poupaud). Their story spans a decade— naturalistic quotidian elements of Laurence’s story converge with Dolan’s signature lyrical passages as it becomes increasingly difficult for Fred and Laurence to communicate, to relate to each other, to love each other. The result is an epic, sweeping film that takes us deep into the psychology of a character mainstream cinema systematically omits. Dolan’s third feature premiered in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2012 Cannes Film Festival; Suzanne Clément took home Best Actress in this category, and the film won the Queer Palm.
Like the FIPRESCI Prize, the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, and prizes for both Quinzaine des Réalisateurs and Semaine de la Critique, the Queer Palm is awarded by independent entities. Dolan had this to say about his 2012 Queer Palm:
“That such prizes even exist disgusts me. What progress is there to make, with awards as marginalizing, as ostracizing, that claim that films made by gays are gay movies?
We divide with these categories. We fragment the world into hermetic little communities. I didn’t collect the Queer Palm. They still want me to. Never! Homosexuality can be addressed in my films or not.”
Dolan’s refusal to accept the Queer Palm award proved disconcerting to a number of critics, as well as the governing body that awards the prize. However, there is truth to his argument. Why must films with queer themes be relegated to a separate category? Why can’t they be judged by the same criteria as other films?
The effort to distinguish between queer and non-queer films further subjugates the former— assigns it as ‘other.’ It is to suggest that films with queer themes possess their own set of merits.
To achieve equality, this concept of ‘otherness’ must be eliminated.
In the 90s, I lived with my mother in suburban Montreal. At school, I was a child star, privileged to miss classes to act in a commercial or a film every once and while. From the perspective of my peers, I was in show business. The truth was that my relationship to cinema was superficial: besides the Disney classics, my initiation to the seventh art was limited to efficient and soulless Hollywood blockbusters, dubbed into French, which my father would take me to see (often to appreciate the dubbing, which was how he made his living). My mother was never pleased about these excursions, suspicious of the influence these films had on me. Later, I would come to believe she might have blamed them for my adolescent violence and indiscipline.
In spite of all that, it was my mother who took me to my cinematic baptism. In December of 1997, I was 9 years old, and my mother brought me to the, regrettably now defunct, theatre Le Parisien.
Throughout the course of that evening, I felt as though I was experiencing all the ‘firsts’ that life has to offer in hyperspeed: I fell in love with a man, a woman, costumes, design, images… I felt the shivers that accompany a genuinely great story, ambitious, told with respect for the rules of art, intelligent, epic and sensational.
This cinematic shock cannot be overstated, and I knew that I needed in that moment to learn English as fast as possible, so that I too could act in American movies. It was also at this point in my life that I started dressing up in my mother’s clothes more often, more seriously, and without her ever preventing me. I spent more and more time in my imagination, eschewing a real world in which I found myself disliked by other kids my own age, collecting false friends due to my notoriety and creating an isolating shell of arrogance.
This cinematic shock was, I realised only recently, a revelation: not only did I know that I wanted to be an actor and a director, but, like this amazing film I had just seen, I wanted my projects, my dreams, to be limitless, and I wanted the unsinkable love I had witnessed on screen to one day be mine.
Fifteen years later, I watch Laurence Anyways, and I see my childhood still secretly at play. To be clear, I do not wish to become a woman, and my film is a homage to the ultimate love story: ambitious, impossible, the love we want to be sensational, boundless, the love that we don’t dare hope for, the love that only cinema, books and art provide. Laurence Anyways is a homage to the time in my life, before I became a director, when I had to become a man.
Introducing Filmatique, a streaming platform specializing in the US release of critically acclaimed art-house and festival features. In particular, Filmatique curates films from first and second time directors shooting in emerging markets of contemporary world cinema.
Filmatique's current line up includes a Best Film at New Directors/New Films 2015 from Georgia; a Best New Director at San Sebastián 2014 winner from Latvia; and a Venice-premiering thriller from one of China's most celebrated auteurs.
Filmatique releases a feature every Thursday—films remain on the platform for twelve weeks.
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