The third feature from acclaimed French-Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan, who has been hailed by the New York Times as “wildly talented,” stars Melvil Poupaud (Broken English, A Christmas Tale) and Suzanne Clément (The Long Winter, I Killed My Mother) as Laurence and Frédérique, a couple whose commitment to each other is challenged when Laurence reveals his desire to live as a woman. Laurence Anyways debuted in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Queer Palm and a Best Actress award for Clément’s performance as Frédérique. Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Milk) recently signed on as the executive producer of the film in advance of the U.S. release.
Laurence, a French teacher and soon-to-be-published author, enjoys an intense and mutually loving relationship with his fiancée, Frédérique. But on the day after his 35th birthday, Laurence confesses to her that he longs to become a woman, asking her to support his transformation. The film follows the course of the couple’s on-again, off-again relationship throughout the 1990s.
The film at more than two hours long serves as a character study and explores a lot of territory between the two main characters. At first, Frédérique is fine with Laurence’s decision, but soon becomes frustrated and angry that Laurence has chosen to drastically change their relationship. Laurence is at odds with his mother and also himself at times. He seems to have been estranged from his parents, and then he pops up to tell them that he now wants to live as a woman. His father has been ill, and the mother really doesn’t want to upset the apple cart by telling his father about his decision. I get the feeling that his mother was fine with having little contact with him and that she would probably be pleased if he would just disappear.
The director takes a subject that is not easy, but at times—like when Laurence goes to school for the first time dressed as a woman—nobody seems to be bothered by it, or the students don’t have the usual reaction of shock. As he walks into the classroom and stands in front of the desk, after a short silence one of the students asks about the homework assignment. No one mentions anything about his appearance. And with that, it seems that Laurence goes about his business just blending into society. I am not saying that Laurence doesn’t run into difficulties, trying to express himself. He gets into a fight while at a pub one night and even he and his fiancée run into their disagreements or outbursts from time to time. During one time, she leaves him alone on the street and takes a cab home. After he is beaten, he meets a peculiar bunch of folks, whose last name is Rose, who at one time were performers and dancers. They live in this magical house that is full of decadence and luxury. And this is where he feels most at home. After some time, the two of them split up, and Frédérique moves away, marries and has a child. But this is after she goes ballistic during brunch at a restaurant when the older waitress keeps asking Laurence questions about his clothing and makeup.
I suppose although Laurence has been a bit nonchalant about the entire thing, she had reached a boiling point, where she realizes that she has lost Laurence and their dreams of travelling and being together forever have been destroyed. But it is probably more that there was no guidebook or support group at that time for either of them to know just how to deal with this situation. And because of this, Laurence feels that just because he decides to live as a woman doesn’t mean that he and Frédérique can’t still live together.
Years after she moves away, Laurence figures out where she is and sends Frédérique his book. Although he has moved on and has a new girlfriend, he now seems more comfortable in his new skin, so to speak. But it seems obvious that he is no longer wearing the awkward dresses and skirts. The two of them reacquaint and even go off on a short weekend together.
But reconciliation is not to be, and they split yet again. In the end, Laurence is shown without the makeup with a group of actors, who are being directed by Frédérique. It is hard to tell whether he has decided not to become a woman or whether the scene that he is playing requires him to be male. In any case, it was good to see that he and Frédérique were back together in the end, no matter what his gender, simply because they were great together—making for a great movie.
From Breaking Glass Pictures, Laurence Anyways hits theaters in Chicago and other areas on June 28.