Planner . Filmmaker . Edmontonian
By Adam Bentley
A lesbian who fled mainstream society with her trans-female partner to the Isle of Black says “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” about two hours into Laurence Anyways, Xavier Dolan’s third feature film about the seemingly-impossible relationship between Fred Belair (Suzanne Clement), a bipolar punk and Laurence Alia (Melvil Poupaud), a man who wants to become a woman. As the film follows the lives of Laurence and Fred from 1989 to 1999, the more they gain for themselves, the more they lose their connection to each other and the outside world.
The film begins. Shots of the back of a tall woman walking down the street in a pants suit. People stare. Shots of a dingy apartment kitchen and a bedroom with a simple mattress. Whoever lives here does not have much. A man’s voice introduces himself and mentions that he published a book. Laurence Anyways continues with long, slow, poetic movements followed by fast, jarring cuts. Bright colours flutter across the frame in slow motion while retro techno music accentuates the spectacle. Fed up with Laurence not being sufficiently masculine anymore, Fred goes alone to a ball for the film industry wearing a see-through sequined, backless dress. She sees friends, them dances, gets drunk, then dances with and kisses another man (whom she later marries). Laurence walks alone across the deck of a ferry wearing a purple overcoat, headscarf, and sunglasses. His coattail waves in the wind.
At two hours and forty minutes, Laurence Anyways should be able to express all aspects of plot through image juxtaposition and micro-level movements. However, there are several points when obvious questions are explicitly and quickly answered. Six years after leaving Laurence, as Fred reads his first published book of poetry, a literal waterfall spills over her drenching her with regrets. Ten years after they broke up, Fred asks Laurence if he has any regrets, implying that his choice to become a woman ruined their relationship. Laurence regrets nothing. He can look in the mirror and know he appears as he truly is. These attempts to overtly express suspected emotions seem redundant and overly simplistic.
As Laurence becomes closer to his true female self, he loses material goods and lives literally closer to the ground. As Fred thinks and sees less of Laurence, she gets married, has a child, lives in a big house with many “irritating” knick-knacks. Her husband divorces her when she tries to reunite with Laurence. Near the film’s end, Laurence tells Fred regardless of what gender he was, their already marginalized situation (she mentally ill; he an artist) exposed them to enough societal consternation that would’ve forced them apart. Fred disagrees. The next day Laurence stands on his dingy apartment balcony soaking in the fresh air in full female hair and make-up. A teenage boy mockingly flirts with him. He is flattered. Fred can only think of the time they first met. Both have something. Neither have everything. At least Laurence does not expect everything.