With Laurence Anyways (2012), many may wonder: why watch an almost three-hour long French-language drama about gender-transition and its effects on the main character’s romantic life, when you can get a Hollywood/British A-production film on the same topic that is under two hours and does not require subtitles? The answer has two parts, both equally important. Firstly, watch it because there are many queer stories – it is not “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all”. And secondly, watch it because Xavier Dolan’s filmmaking, as well as Melvil Poupaud and Suzanne Clément’s acting, demands to be seen.
The film is about Laurence (Melvil Poupaud), a thirty-year-old literature teacher who comes out as MtF transgender while in a committed relationship with Frédérique (Suzanne Clément). Although initially shocked, Frédérique decides to stay with Laurence, supportive of the transition. From that moment onwards, their off-and-on relationship faces many problems – from constantly being seen as different; to Laurence and Frédérique losing their unborn child and their beloved jobs; to dealing with the big question of what role gender has for a couple in love.
In Laurence Anyways, these questions are explored through both verbose scenes as well as through long segments where no one says anything. Although some criticize the film for those moments when “nothing happens,” long sequences without dialogue serve to show the emotional states of the characters and, in that manner, awake empathy in the audience.
One such occurrence is the simple yet very powerful scene in which the camera captures a number of curious-to-hostile looks that Laurence receives while walking the streets. While it actually shows two minutes of intense stares aimed at Laurence, due to the medium-shots almost exclusively focusing on the faces of the observers, it feels as if it is the audience that is being scrutinized. In other words, while the rest of Laurence Anyways puts the audience in the role of the observer of Laurence and Frédérique’s relationship, this scene, in turn, makes us the victims of the hostile stares that the main characters often receive.
Admittedly, this scene is a rather uncomfortable experience, but it is also one that directly communicates just how difficult this mundane task is for Laurence (and Frédérique), and, hopefully, makes us aware of the effects of the stares we give to people when we think they don’t notice.
So is Lawrence Anyways worth the effort to watch? Let us know in the comments below.
DIRECTOR: Xavier Dolan
STARS: Melvil Poupaud and Suzanne Clément
RUNTIME: 2 hrs 48