It is impossible to discuss the films of Xavier Dolan without acknowledging the fact that he is incredibly young. His debut feature, I Killed My Mother, played the Cannes Film Festival Directors’ Fortnight when he was 18 years old. His latest film, the gorgeous, heartbreaking, and epic Laurence Anyways is finding its way to home video release in the United States in the year Dolan turns 24. Three films into his career as a filmmaker may be a bit early to be throwing around words like “masterpiece,” but if any film (and filmmaker) merits the hyperbole, it’s this one.
Literature teacher Laurence Alia (Melvil Poupaud) decides on his 35th birthday to do something he has wanted to do since he was a child. He decides to become a woman. Needless to say, this comes as a shock to his girlfriend Fred (Suzanne Clément), who nonetheless decides to support Laurence’s decision. Less certain is Laurence’s relationship with his parents: his mother Julienne (Nathalie Baye) is not pleased, and refuses to let Laurence discuss the matter with his cold, distant father. Laurence’s relationships with Fred and his mother form the backbone of the story, which follows them for a decade starting from the late 1980s.
Running nearly three hours, Laurence Anyways also calls to mind Paul Thomas Anderson. While Dolan does pack Laurence Anyways with a number of interesting supporting characters, his focus is more narrow than Boogie Nights or Magnolia. The audience spends a lot of time with Laurence and Fred in particular, and the two leads both give amazing performances. It is impossible not to be deeply attached to these characters by the end of the film, a heartbreaking payoff that is well earned by Dolan and his leads. In addition to his focus on character, Dolan shares with Anderson a penchant for magical realism (a sudden indoor waterfall, an already-iconic scene with Fred and Laurence walking down the street with brightly colored clothing raining down around them) and a defiant streak. In a world where everyone is transitioning to widescreen televisions, Dolan has shot Laurence Anyways in a square aspect ratio (1.37:1), perhaps as a nod to classic cinema or possibly just to annoy people watching the film at home on their HDTVs.
Curiously, Laurence Anyways is being released by Breaking Glass Pictures, a company whose roster is primarily made up of LGBT genre and documentary films. Hopefully the film will find its audience through home video and VOD release in the States, as it is unquestionably one of the best films of the year. Dolan has created a gorgeous, exhilarating, heart-wrenching epic with a spectacular cast and an excellent soundtrack. This is absolutely required viewing for any serious cinephile.
Breaking Glass Pictures released Laurence Anyways on DVD and Blu-ray on 8 October 2013. Special features include “Modern Monday: An Evening with Xavier Dolan” (an interview with Dolan running nearly 80 minutes), nearly an hour of deleted scenes with commentary, a photo gallery and the film’s theatrical trailer.