Tuesday, October 8, 2013

In LAURENCE ANYWAYS Xavier Dolan continues his lengthy examination of the Canadian "other"

Now that we've seen three of French-Canadian actor/director/
writer Xavier Dolan's full-length films, one thing -- in addition to the main character's "otherness" as a homosexual or would-be trans-gender -- does stand out. Shorter is definitely better, as M. Dolan appears to have some trouble staying focused. His first film (which remains his best), I Killed My Mother (J'ai tué ma mère), all about a fraught mom/son relation-ship, ran only 96 minutes but still began to ramble toward the finale; his follow-up, Heartbeats (Les amours imaginaires) extended to 101 minutes and tracked a kind of doomed threesome/would-be love affair with the focus and point alternately sharp and woozy; now, with LAURENCE ANYWAYS, that focus is on a seemingly happy, if a little wild, male school teacher who one day, quite out of the blue, confesses to his girl his raging need to become a woman. This one lasts two hours and 48 minutes.

Perhaps TrustMovies was expecting too much from this film -- something like a real and at least somewhat deep look into the why and how of the transgender experience. Instead we get a very lengthy movie about this "odd couple" that -- despite all the ability that the very fine actor Melvil Poupaud musters here (it's a lot) and the terrific actress Suzanne Clément (who matches Poupaud moment for moment) -- fuck and fight and split, then do it all over, again and again, throughout this oddly "surface" film. Neither as writer nor director, even with as able performers as he has here, can M. Dolan (shown above) manage to delve to any depth. By the end of the film, we know about as much as we did going in. If the filmmaker's intent is to keep the mystery of transgender desire ever mysterious, he has succeeded in spades. I am not even certain that you could call Laurence at any point in the film actually transgendered, as he seems to have a quite a bit of trouble parting with his penis. (And if you've ever seen M. Poupaud's, you'll immediately understand why.)

Because of this inability to connect thoughtful dialog to interesting visuals, what we mostly get are views like the above and below, in which M. Poupaud appears to be, uh, ill at ease, or maybe just pensive, or perhaps too hot or too cold. It is asking an awful lot of this good actor to fill in so many blanks. (To view M. Poupaud in one of his finest roles, watch him in Ozon's Time to Leave.)

Ditto Ms Clement, shown below, who has a whopping good scene with a waitress over brunch in a restaurant. It's fierce and funny and nasty and real. But then it goes on long enough to make you realize that, by this time, one of the other diners would have picked up Ms Clement bodily and thrown her out of the place. Dolan doesn't always know, simply for the sake of believability, when to call a halt to a scene.

Our hero is so very self-involved (a trait possessed by all of the Dolan's leading characters, and in fact most of his characters in general) that he becomes something of a pain in the ass. I suppose that anyone this unhappy with his gender identity would indeed be self-involved. How could he not? Still, we'd like to experience him a little more fully. So the choice of where he goes and what he does and whom he sees and so forth determines how fully we get to view and understand him. M. Dolan is far too circumspect in what he allows his character to negotiate.

Wherever he goes, home to dad and mom (interesting work from Nathalie Baye), to his girl, to a bar, our hero seem to get into a fight -- verbal or otherwise. Finally, it's refreshing, if annoying, to see him with a new girl with whom he simply goes into heavy withdrawal. Overall, the character comes off as a something of an entitled twat. Which is not, I suspect, the kind of "woman" he wanted to become.

The filmmaker's ending, by the way -- taking us back to how this couple first met -- is just lovely. Or it would be in more of a old-fashioned, sentimental love story that tugs the heart strings. At this point, you begin to wonder if that is indeed what Dolan meant his movie to be. In any case, Laurence Anyways (the title get its last-minute moment, in a verbal manner, similar to the way in which Frances Ha got hers, visually), from Breaking Glass Pictures, makes its DVD and Blu-ray debut today.

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