Xavier Dolan is twenty-three. I usually don’t concern myself with the age of film directors, but Dolan is the exception. In 2009, at the age of twenty, his first feature film J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother) debuted at Cannes and won three prizes under the Director’s Fortnight. In 2010, at the age of twenty-one his second feature Les amours imaginaires (Heartbeats) premiered again at Cannes under Un Certain Regard. This year marks Dolan’s third tour at cinema’s most distinguished festival, with the debut of his epic film Laurence Anyways.
It’s safe to say that the creative voice within this young Montreal auteur is wise beyond his years. His themes of self-discovery, sexual identity and unrequited combustible passion focus on life’s difficult and awkward moments, yet Dolan’s touch prescribes them with ravishing beauty and surreal existence on screen.
Laurence Anyways is an operatic, transsexual love chronicle of a couple whose souls are bound to each other in such intensity that neither of them can deny it. Layers upon layers of relationship ups and downs construct the historical drama of Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) and Frederique (Suzanne Clément). The quintessential case of can’t live with, you can’t live without you, begins in September 1989, and reaches to 1999, the brink of Y2K and the dawning of a new millennium. Laurence is a high school teacher and Frederique works in the film industry, and together they have built a stable life that is rife with joie de vivre.
The test of their stability and endurance as a couple is put under a microscope when Laurence, decides he can no longer live as a man. He courageously releases his 30 year secret to Frederique in a heated argument where he equates the need to leave his male identity behind and transition into female, as a type of death.
This begins the couple’s complex equation of balancing security with insecurity, which tests Frederique’s loyalty and emotional rigour towards the man who she loves as he changes into the woman she is supposed to love. The overwhelming and intense nature of the subject is matched with Dolan’s boundless stylistic vision. This work of art may be the culmination of his artistic vision as it presents a film that is rich with emotion shown in opulence, but on a fundamental level is singularly about change. With the exception of the length of the film, which could have used some key editing to form a more succinct flow, Laurence Anyways is a sumptuous achievement – for a filmmaker of any age – but specifically for one that is twenty-three.
One can’t deny the masterful effort here, and its transsexual love story should not be relegated to niche. This film is universal, and can be understood on the level of anyone who has endured the heart-make and heart-break that love stories so often come with. In its soul, Laurence, Anyways communicates that there are still some things that last a long time, and whether it’s your believed sex or your infallible attachment to another human, some things are too powerful to deny.