I’m not proud of this, but it took me 4 days to watch Laurence Anyways, and I should clarify that I didn’t watch the film in varying stretches over these 4 days, I watched it in one sitting. It’s just that that sitting wasn’t until the 4th day after I was originally supposed to watch it. Thursday night I had planned to watch the film by Xavier Dolan, which would be my first film of his, I hadn’t seen anything by him previously. I knew I wouldn’t have time to watch a near 3 hour film Friday or Saturday due to my work schedule, so it was either Thursday night or wait until Sunday night. It’s play instantly on Netflix, so I go to my account to watch it, and it’s at the top of my list, right there in front of my eyes. I’m about to click on it and hit play, but something catches my attention out of the corner of my eye. It was Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power, which was now play instantly on Netflix. I couldn’t resist, this emotional and powerful piece of cinema I had planned on watching would have to wait another day, because I had another emotional and powerful piece of cinema to watch instead.
I have a strong weakness for straight-to-DVD franchises, they are like candy to my soul. I’ve seen all the Scorpion King films and all the Death Race prequels. I know, I’m sorry (I’M NOT SORRY). And while Scorpion King 4 met my sky-high expectations – there’s a scene where the Scorpion King fights off a bunch of guys with nothing but a bearskin rug – I realized that in choosing it over Laurence Anyways, I had undercut one of the basic joys of filmwatching. One of my favorite things about film is that there are always new pockets of cinema for me to discover. I can never know everything about every type of film, and I take great excitement in that fact that there is always more for me to learn about film. For example, I’m particularly underversed in LGBT cinema, and even more so French-Canadian LGBT cinema. Laurence Anyways would not only serve as my introduction to Xavier Dolan – I had only read what Kyle Turner, the internet’s foremost Dolan expert, had written – but to a subgenre of film I was previously sadly unfamiliar with, and what I found was a near masterpiece of filmmaking.
The film follows Laurence (Melvil Poupaud), a 35 year old male-to-female transgender high school teacher who decides to come out to her fiancée and family, and charts the 10-year romance between Laurence’s lover Fred (Suzanne Clément) and herself.
There’s an exhilarating sense of energy in the way Dolan shoots even his most intimate and calm scenes. Simple conversations between Laurence and Fred flow with the excitement of a spectacle while retaining subtlety and intimacy. Consider the scenes of Laurence and Fred making lists of things in their car during the rain, there’s a collision of both the calm and the furious that results in an emotion that’s truly unique.
There are subtle yet effective techniques of filmmaking that Dolan uses to immerse the audience. Point of view is a visual technique used throughout the first half of the film. Eyes follow Laurence all the way down the street in the beginning after transitioning. As Laurence walks down the street as a man 10 years earlier, she sees and envies the women around her, zeroing in on their hair. The 1:33 : 1 aspect ratio adds a ripe combination of tension and intimacy to the film. You feel the suffocation that Laurence feels having lived 35 years of her life feeling trapped in her own body.
Dolan will engage in dramatic surrealism with perfect execution. Consider when Fred reads the poem about her in Laurence’s book, her emotions become such that a waterfall literally rains down upon her in her living room. One of the film’s most transcendently beautiful scenes comes when Laurence and Fred walk down a street in slow motion bliss, as various articles of clothing rain down upon them like a celebratory parade while Moderat’s “A New Error” thumps and pulsates the beating heart of the scene. Dolan somehow makes the surreal feel completely natural in this film.
The film is an odyssey of emotion. You get the sense that Xavier Dolan is a firm believer in love and humanity – the pure bliss of being alive – while able to comprehend the passage of time and the people in your life. No, it had nothing that the Scorpion King 4 had – again, FIGHTS OFF A BUNCH OF ABLY ARMED MEN WITH A BEARSKIN RUG – it had a lasting power few films have. I finished the film with the same feeling that we all get after discovering something great – “How in the hell did I wait this long to watch this?” And that, is the true joy of film.