Friday, July 5, 2013

Reverend's Reviews: Trans-cendent

It is both impressive and ironic that indie distributor Breaking Glass Pictures was able to secure Oscar-nominated director Gus Van Sant as Executive Producer of the current US theatrical run of Xavier Dolan's Laurence Anyways. I say "ironic" because Dolan — the gay, 24-year old Canadian wunderkind who previously made I Killed My Mother and Heartbeats — has in interviews denounced the existence of Queer Cinema, the LGBT filmmaking movement Van Sant helped to establish in the early 1990's.

As Dolan recently said to Out magazine: "There's no such thing as queer cinema. My generation has sexual, sensual, and sentimental boundaries that are completely different from those of the generations that precede us. It's time to get the Liquid Paper out and erase some of those labels, because no one wants to be an ambassador for a ghetto." So there. While I generally agree with Dolan's contemporary perspective, he could be more appreciative of the fact that he likely wouldn't be enjoying the success he is if it wasn't for the progress at making LGBT films more mainstream achieved by such Queer Cinema pioneers as Van Sant, Gregg Araki, Todd Haynes and Christine Vachon over the last 20 years.

Also ironically, Laurence Anyways is arguably Dolan's queerest production to date both thematically and structurally. It is a decade-spanning, three-hour emotional epic about the initially-male title character's decision to become a woman and its repercussions among his/her various relationships, most critically Laurence's female fiancée. The film has been honored with numerous awards since its premiere at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Queer Palm for best LGBT-themed picture as well as a Best Actress award for Suzanne Clement, who plays Laurence's would-be wife with the gender-upending name Fred (short for Frederique).

While Clement does give a sensationally high-strung performance, Melvil Poupaud (A Christmas Tale) is the film's heart and soul as Laurence. He depicts his character's transition from male to female more in terms of emotional changes than the physical, which Dolan also emphasizes in his screenplay and direction. At a nearly three-hour running time, one can't help but feel that Dolan & Co. go into a bit too much detail, re: the changes faced by Laurence, especially during his and Fred's occasional reunions. Nonetheless, there has not been as exhaustive (exhausting?) a look into the Trans experience as Laurence Anyways on the big screen before.

Dolan employs his now-trademark stylistic flourishes that include period pop music (the film is set in the 1990's), over-saturated colors in the sets and costumes, dry humor (after Laurence is beaten up in one scene, a fellow Trans character tells him "It gets better, my ass") and numerous expressionistic flourishes. Laurence Anyways is a singular achievement by an undeniably talented young artist, but it probably wouldn't exist if not for the Queer Cinema that bore Dolan and his body of work to date.

Reverend's Rating: B+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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