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Laurence Anyways


Christian
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At the risk of embarrassing myself, I'm pasting here the only thing I've written (outside of a few A&F posts) about Xavier Dolan's Laurence Anyways, from my 20 Best Films of 2013:

 

19. Laurence Anyways

I’ve struggled with LGBT cinema in light of my beliefs in the authority of Scripture. During a year when public opinion pivoted toward favoring same-sex marriage and Christians who believe in traditional Biblical ideas of sexuality went on the defensive, Laurence Anyways, Xavier Dolan’s melodrama about a man who undergoes a sex change, presented characters about whom I felt genuine compassion. It’s a sprawling, messy film that engaged me throughout its staggering 168 minutes.

 

That's it. I expected some backlash, but haven't heard a peep. I know that views on homosexuality are changing, even among Evangelicals. I write for an Evangelical audience, and I count myself as Reformed. Gay-themed cinema has been problematic for me. I've seen several films about gay characters, some of which are directed by known gay filmmakers and others that aren't. Many of these films have been highly acclaimed, but I can't remember liking any movie I've seen in which the focus of the film was the gay characters' sexuality. I've chalked this up to moral disagreement with homosexuality, but I know that a lot of it has/had to do with immaturity. After all, I'm not so quick to discount films that highlight other behaviors I'd call sinful, so why couldn't I engage gay cinema?

 

That's why I'm willing to repost the thoughts above, but why now? Because last night I rewatched the first half of Laurence Anyways, bracing myself for a second-viewing letdown, and possible regret for including the film on my list.

 

No. A thousand times, no!

 

It's a long film, and maybe the second half rewatch will temper my reaction, but this film is really quite something. If anything, I underrated the movie. I do remember thinking that the visual style subsides as the film goes along, but I thought that happened within the first half-hour. I'm now about 90 minutes into the movie, and while the first half hour stands out, the rest of the first half is more visually engaging than I'd recalled.

 

I should wait to post more until I've completed the film, but I didn't want this moment to pass without starting a thread devoted to the film. I know that most folks on the board don't subscribe to my views of the Bible or its teaching on homosexuality. I know most of you are more open to these stories than I've been. Also, I'm sure there are some of you who don't want to watch the movie, either because of theological conventions or because Laurence Anyways isn't your type of film. That's fine; I don't want to encourage people to see something that will disappoint or offend them.

 

But my second viewing has reinvigorated my interest in this film, and the filmmaker, and I'm eager to hear more from A&F folks about Laurence Anyways and its director.

 

Note that this film came up over here, where Darren wrote some nice things about the movie and about Dolan.

 

I picked up the DVD at the library, so the movie's available for home viewing. I've not yet seen Dolan's other films, but this one has me on notice. I'll be following Dolan's career with hope.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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A couple months ago I caught up with Dolan's first film, I Killed My Mother, which due to the weirdness of distribution was officially a 2013 American release although it premiered at Cannes in 2009. It's a small, uneven, and mostly forgettable film, but I can't dismiss it because Dolan was 19 when he made it, after all, and it's a remarkable accomplishment by that standard. Also it features Suzanne Clement, whose performance in Laurence Anyways was my favorite of 2013. Dolan's second film, Heartbeats, is lighter, more fun, and more stylistically adventurous. Last I checked, it was available on Netflix streaming. I missed his latest, Tom at the Farm, at TIFF and it hasn't yet found American distribution, which is surprising because it is, by most accounts, his most conventional film--a thriller of sorts in the Hitchcock vein. Several friends who saw it were disappointed because it lacks the stylistic flourishes of Heartbeats and Laurence Anyways.

 

I think the real pleasure of watching Dolan's films is in his taste. The films border on pastiche, as if he's sitting there with you and just sharing his favorite paintings and clothes and movies and songs. There's a youthful exuberance and fearlessness in them. He doesn't yet know what he doesn't yet know, so it's like we've been granted unedited access to his obsessions. He's either going to grow out of this phase or he's going to become incredibly boring. I'm hoping Tom at the Farm represents the first, clunky stage of a transition into more mature work.

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it features Suzanne Clement, whose performance in Laurence Anyways was my favorite of 2013. 

I don't know why it took me two viewings to appreciate what Clement does here -- she's at least equal to Melvil Poupaud's performance, which is tremendous. 

 

There's a real break about halfway through, and it took some adjusting. But I picked up on a lot I hadn't absorbed the first time around, That scene in the bar toward the end -- bathed in blue, with a dash of purple, and then a restroom that's all red -- the use of color in this film is very strong, maybe even Sirk-esque, although I've (sadly) still not seen enough of Sirk's work to confidently draw such parallels.

 

I was going to return the DVD tomorrow, but checking the deleted scenes, I discover that there's 55 minutes of extra material, introduced and with commentary by Dolan. I didn't think I'd need another 55 minutes of the movie on top of the lengthy feature running time, but I'm so impressed, and so interested to hear from the filmmaker himself, that I'm going to try to carve out time to watch the bonus material.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I lost track of this Skandie awards this year and was just catching up when I discovered that Clement placed #6 among Best Actresses! That news was posted the day before my post just above this one.

 

A few voters express pleasant shock in the comments below the linked post.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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  • 3 weeks later...

Very nice, Darren. I hadn't realized you thought Poupad's performance was lacking, whether due to Dolan or not. I don't have a real argument against what you wrote re: his performance, but I wonder what line, exactly, you imagine would have improved the character/performance. Seems to me there are a variety of ways -- many, many ways -- that even a sentence of further explanation could have sunk the characterization by simplifying Laurence's psychology, or by being too obvious or wrongheaded in some way. I prefer to see the lack of elaboration as mysterious, but I think you rose to the challenge of explaining exactly why such a conclusion won't be enough for some viewers. Maybe my willingness to let that slide is my own cop-out. 

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I watched Laurence Anyways a few nights ago for the first time since September '12, and I was surprised--and a little disappointed--by some of the weaknesses that I'd either forgotten or not noticed on a first viewing. Maybe it's because I was watching the film specifically to write about Clement, but I was really struck by how it's a film about Fred more than about Laurence, even down to the very last shot, which is a closeup on Fred right after she first met him. I think Dolan has a deeper understanding of Fred, and because he also has a longer history with Clement (she's also in his first film, I Killed My Mother) that character has a lot more depth, both on the page and on the screen.

 

I wrote about that climactic scene, specifically, because it was the best example of that imbalance. I really don't think the scene works. It's poorly directed and underwritten. Is Laurence disappointed because Fred lied to him for years? Did she dash the image of her he'd created in his imagination? Was he disappointed to have missed the opportunity to become a father? Was he disgusted by her decision to have an abortion? Was he overcome with shame for having driven her to this decision? Was he suddenly confronted by just how self-involved he'd become--that he hadn't cared enough for her at that moment? I don't know, I don't think Dolan knows, and I'm sure, based on his performance, that Poupaud doesn't know.

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  • 1 year later...

Streaming on Netflix US, btw. Along with I Killed My Mother. I watched Heartbeats the other day  (and really liked it; the WKW quotes work a lot better in the movie than they do in the trailer) and IKMM, (didn't care for it so much, but the circumstances of watching it were less than ideal--two viewings separated by about a day). Working my way toward Laurence--hopefully I'll get to it tonight or tomorrow.

Meanwhile, here's a video essay I found online:

 

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Just watched this. Observations:

1. After watching Dolan's first three movies in the space of four days, it's interesting to see the same beats come up so consistently. I mean, there's the obvious stuff--distant mothers, unrequited love, etc--and there's other, smaller things: Laurence's explanation for his injuries are exactly the same Dolan's character offers in IKMM (and that sequence, as per interviews online, is autobiographical), and there's a sequence where Laurence complains about the word special (or peculiar, according to subtitles), which is also a lift from Dolan's first movie. These sorts of obsessive reiterations are catnip for me, so I can't say I mind them.

2. I track with Darren's argument that the movie is really about a woman who had the misfortune to fall in love with the wrong man--particularly in light of Heartbeats. This observation is an interesting one in light of the fact that IKMM is "really" about a mother's difficulties with her son; the semi-autobiographical nature of the film shouldn't obscure the fact that Dolan heavily tilts sympathy in the direction of the mother. So LA expands that field of interest outward from mother-child but keeps the essential dynamic in play. It's not entirely successful; I don't think I'm quite as negative on Laurence's portrayal, but that climactic scene referred to above definitely doesn't work as well as similar scenes in IKMM or Heartbeats.

3. Three hours is pretty long, but I don't feel like the movie has much fat--it breaks neatly in the middle, too, which allows for a break without ruining the flow of the movie. I did get a kick out of the fact that the movie opens with Laurence defending Proust's extravagant length.

4. Dolan's other two movies--Tom at the Farm and Mommy (which he's described as an apology of sorts to his mother) are both on Amazon streaming, so I'll probably be checking them out in the coming week. I'm particularly interested in TatF.

5. Dolan has two movies coming out next year (2016)--one in English.

On the whole, I think I liked this one, though I probably should chew on it a bit. I immediately loved Heartbeats, and tonally this is a totally different animal--besides which, Laurence is a harder character to get a grip on, for reasons pointed earlier in this thread, and one with whom it's difficult to sympathize either sincerely (as I think is the case with the protagonist in IKMM, in spite of what I say above) or ironically (as in Heartbeats).

 

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 12/28/2015 at 7:50 AM, Darren H said:

For what it's worth, I gave up on Tom at the Farm after 20 minutes. I suppose it's possible that it gets significantly better after that point, but what I watched confirmed my worry that Dolan would struggle in his transition to more classical, non-autobiographical filmmaking. The opening is a real mess.

I don't think Farm really deserves its own thread, so I'll just note here that--yeah, it's a mess. The character motivations are incredibly opaque, and the movie has none of the virtues of Dolan's first three movies. This movie was apparently Dolan's attempt to show that he can make a movie that isn't about unrequited love, which is funny because it is, kind of, about unrequited love. And it's an adaptation, but it still manages to fit in most of Dolan's thematic obsessions, including a love triangle that kind of replicates the one in Heartbeats and the difficult-man-to-love.

Pretty disappointing, though, after Heartbeats and Laurence Anyways.

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  • 4 months later...

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