After Romain Duris, Melvil Poupaud is my favorite currently active French actor in films such as “Time to Leave,” “Mysteries of Lisbon,” and “A Christmas Tale.” Add the great Natalie Baye (Tell No One, Le Petit Lieutenant, Vénus beauté institut) as his mother and wunderkind Québecois filmmaker Xavier Dolan (I Killed My Mother, Heartbeats) with Suzanne Clément (who was also in “I Killed My Mother”), and I thought the result would be a very interesting film.
I was, alas, wrong. I cannot fault the actors for the tedium of “Laurence Anyways” (2012). Credited for costume design and editing, as well as writing, producing, and directing (though only appearing onscreen as an unnamed partygoer), I blame Dolan for the inordinate running length of 168 minutes. I’m less than enamored of his costume designs, though I’ll gladly credit him with Natalie Baye’s offhand remark “You changed your sex. I changed my address.”
The film is an earnest portrayal of a transsexual (MTF) schoolteacher/writer, the title character played by Poupaud, who loves his wife (I think they are married, though perhaps they are only cohabitating) who has shortened her name from Frederique to “Fred” (Clément, who won the 2012 Cannes Un Certain Regard Award for Best Actress). She loves him, but she loves the man who considers his gender and his sex false to who he really is. Another woman, Charlotte (Magalie Lépine Blondeau, who was in Dolan’s “Heartbeats”) knows who/what he is from the start of their relationship and is more accepting, but his heart belongs to Fred…
Laurence and his mother (Julienne) had never bonded (she says that; he says that he always felt she was a woman who lived in the house rather than his mother), and she has some difficulty with the transformation of her attractive son into an unattractive woman. Poupaud is earnest, but is not one of those actors who looks good in drag (unlike Tony Curtis and Wesley Snipes, for examples, if not as bulky as Ving Rhames).
I don’t think the very long movie says anything new about the torments of feeling someone’s sex does is discordant with their gender, being fired from their job, beaten up, and not delighting their spouse by wanting to change their sex. The jerky handheld camera work annoys mem as does the very mannered (“artsy”) framing of many shots and the musical clichés. (The talkiness I can write off to the film being “French.”)
I am puzzled that the prominent French actors trusted themselves to the very young French Canadian filmmaker (not to mention traveling to Montréal to appear in his film). They are not heard from explaining why they came to Montréal in any bonus features. Other than two trailers and a photo gallery, the only bonus feature is deleted scenes — for an already bloated, overly long movie another hour (almost)! I’d have cut the scenes with a group of aging trannies and provided more in the way of transition from Fred’s attempting to accommodate Laurence to her giving up and giving in to resentment. (I’d also have had Laurence’s hair grow out in the year plus after his decision to stop counterfeiting being a man.)
BTW Baye signed on to play a mother in another Dolan project, “It’s Only the End of the World (2016).”
©21 December 2013, Stephen O. Murray