5 stars – by Aileen Suresh
What does it feel like to be a transgender woman? What hardships would an individual face? To wear a wig, or not to wear a wig? These questions pale in comparison to the themes investigated in the life of transgender woman in Laurence Anyways. Xavier Dolan’s French Canadian masterpiece explores the life of Laurence Alia (Melvil Poupaud) who transitions into a woman in the 1990s. She faces the common hardships one would expect; she is made unemployed as a teacher, she is beat up in a pub and faces a turbulent relationship with her girlfriend Fred (Suzanne Clement). However, what is interesting is how Dolan explores the ordinary in this extraordinary tale. She shows the ordinariness of using comedy to express the changes Laurence has to encounter. For instance, when Laurence breaks the news to her mum, she asks ‘so you still love me?’ her mother responds with ‘are you turning into a woman or an idiot?’ The film does not revolve around Laurence, but investigates how those around her cope. Fred falls into a depression, remarries and still loves Laurence. Laurence is not depicted like a damsel in distress; she constantly treats her new girlfriend like a doormat/ servant and dismisses her like the Queen of Sheba would do to her subjects. The film tackles much more than the difficulties the transgender community faces, instead focusing on how Laurence, as a woman or man, still has the human tendencies such as jealously and selfishness. She is not presented as a strong Greek Goddess like Athena; she is not fighting a war to have society accept the transgender community. She is simply trying to live her life experiencing love, literature and loneliness.
What make the film truly remarkable is not only the thematic content, but the surrealist, artistic qualities Dolan conveys. The flash of colours, the distressed camera angles, strange shapes and lighting makes the film morph almost into a European expressionist artistic piece. The distorted colouring of the film laden with heavily symbolism suggests this film is not going to be an easy ride for the viewer. Certainly, with 2 hours and 40 minutes of footage, the film takes its toll on the viewer, as they meander through still shots, silence and Laurence drifting through the streets. The sudden intense music is jarring, disfiguring the domestic visuals contrasted to the stationary shots taken. This film then forces you to be silent and restricts your movements despite the length of the film. However due to the rich colouring of the film, and the artistic imagery used, the viewer cannot help but be imprisoned in their seats. Just like Laurence trapped in the female body, so too does the audience feel physically confined.
The film moves across the Canadian landscapes, with heavy snow punctuating the scenes when Laurence especially is expressing his loneliness. However snow is also used a celebration. When the Fred finds out some of Laurence’s poetry is a tribute to their memories, snow suddenly falls on her, while she sits inside her home. The Canadian imagery becomes integral to the narrative, especially when Laurence and Fred visit the black island. The film draws awareness of the director’s Canadian heritage, using the area and the language to depict the culture in an artistic format. This is truly an artistic piece, and requires plenty of patience and persistence to fully understand the form, but it is definitely worth the watch. Just make sure you take the time, and there are no deadlines plaguing your mind, as you give this film your full and undivided attention that it fully deserves.