Canada-France (2012). Dir: Xavier Dolan; Scr: Xavier Dolan
It’s a pity that this film is two and a half hours long. It starts so well, with a misty slow-motion sequence – to the throbbing, dark music of Fever Ray – of ordinary folk looking into the camera in horror, confusion or fear, only for Laurence to emerge from the mist in full make-up, dressed in sky-blue chiffon trouser-suit. We then jump back ten years to 1989 to the cabin of a car in a car wash where Laurence – prize-winning writer and teacher – and his lover, Frederique or Fred – a film-production manager, are caught up in the excitement of a special, bohemian world they have created for themselves. A world of intellect and words and “the list of things that minimize our pleasure”. They are an inspiration to each other, true soul-mates, whose interaction fizzes with energy. Until, that is, Laurence tearfully tells Fred that he is a woman in a man’s body and from that point he wants to be treated as such. It is not clear whether this is a matter of choice to Laurence – certainly, Fred had no warning – but he sees it as no reason for their relationship to change. Fred, on the other hand, finds it more difficult to carry on as before, “Everything I love about you, you hate” and for the remainder of the film (about two hours) we follow their lives with a connection between them ever-present, but never fully sustainable.
There’s much to admire in the film along the way: breathtaking beauty; cinematic poetry; surprises and humour – the scene in which Laurence first turns up at school in women’s clothing is quite brilliantly done; use of music, and; passionate performances, especially from Suzanne Clement as Fred. But it is way too long, with many later scenes feeling unnecessary and/or self-indulgent. After an electric first half hour, the film loses its way. But the precocious Xavier Dolan (23) is definitely doing it his way and in this, his third film, he also takes a stab at the discrimination that remains rife. Fred was never bigoted, though, it’s just that Laurence became more special than her.
Also by Xavier Dolan:
I Killed My Mother (2009)