WARNING THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!
The trans film of 2012 was ‘Laurence Anyways’.
And now available from Amazon Canada (CDN$ 24.97) – if you don’t mind waiting then you can get it in the UK and it is due for release in March 2013 priced for pre-order now at Amazon UK (£14.00). Also available now from http://www.amazon.fr cherche ‘Laurence Anyways’ to get it before Christmas but may not have subs so check! 16 euros or 20 for the Blue Ray.
Written and Directed by Xavier Dolan who is the son of Manuel Tadros (who himself is an actor) it seems pretty clear that he is following in his father’s footsteps, and made use of the connections this gave. For such a young writer /director (24) to have pulled this off is something that deserves considerable respect.
A teacher in French Canada (has English Subtitles) called Laurence (played by Melvil Poupaud) finally cracks and has a breakdown which leads him to decide to transition into the woman he believes himself to be. The rest of the film follows her through the testing times of the late 80s and early 1990s. Set in a town that is not that sympathetic to her needs she gets into a few altercations. Although the film is based on a transgender subtext, it is really about a love story, and Laurence’s family relationship with parents is interesting, but once the exciting beginning that promised so much was over the rest of the movie is where it seemed to get a little out of control.
Critque (well it is French).
Manuel Tadros plays Laurence (and he is a very good looking man), but the assumption that a good looking man can pull off playing a woman, especially a non-trans actor demonstrates a growing weakness in the plot. I never really bought into the character. And because the transcharacter remained a ‘man’ that Manuel could play, the character just got kinda stuck in a moment. Longer hair after 5 years was all that was on offer.
The biggest problem with the film is it is just too long for it’s content, which leads to rather a lot of ‘arthouse’ shots and artsy camera angles to pad out the sometime infinite pregnant pauses.
When it first starts it moves at a pace that is comfortable to watch, we see a handsome school teacher speaking to his students with close cropped hair. An intelligent man with a beautiful girlfriend played by Suzanne Clément. Their lives seem idyllic, but there is this undercurrent of excitement for the viewer, as ‘they know what’s coming’!
On a trip to New York his girlfriend ‘Fred’ will not stop talking, and finally he breaks down and tells her he wants to be a woman.
She is shocked but seems to initially go along with it.
The best scene is the one in the film trailer below. Where we see Laurence with a shaven head and a skirt suit march down the corridor of the school. There is a mixed reaction, but the students don’t seem to care. This trailer is a bit sneaky really as this gives the impression that we as transpeople will have something new and exciting. But the wave soon hits the beach and ends up as a trickle, which is a real shame.
When the news gets out to the press in French Canada the parents of the students complain citing the DSMIV classifies this (being trans) as a mental illness and they do not want someone mentally ill teaching their children.
She then loses her Job. Upset, she goes to a quiet bar, is approached by a atypical thug who she headbutts leaving her face covered in blood with a large cut on her forehead, and in a bit of a ‘state’, no-one will stop to help her, she has no change for the phone, but one person does stop in the shape of a friendly crossdresser. This then leads Laurence to a small supportive group of friends who have money and own a large ballroom (who are actors and singers) left to them by a relative. Yeah it is one of those films :).
However, later Fred cannot handle the stares and questions about Laurence (‘losing it’ with an old waitress when they are out for brunch with a tirade of swearing in a packed diner, she assumed Laurence was a prostitute and says, “we get a lot of ‘them’ in here”) as she continues to transition and leaves her.
Although Laurence finds new love she still yearns for Fred.
The rest of the film is about Laurence trying to get her back.
At this point the film begins to get very slow and plodding (it is a 45min drama at best), part of the problem is it is shot in flashback from the very beginning, ’10 years earlier’… but is jumping about within this narrative. Blink and 3 years have passed. You as a viewer are expected to catch up and allow for this and if you do not speak French means you are distracted a lot of the time reading the subs.
I won’t obviously tell you what happens in the end other than she is OK.
This film without the trans narrative could be seen as simply self-indulgent art school film-making, you know the type of thing… The director certainly likes his overhead shots, be that 10 seconds looking at a teapot, or looking at an empty sofa for 20. The use of falling objects throughout the film remove the trans-reality. This is something I feel he may have got out of his depth with. Tumbling objects from the clear skies vary from raining clothes for like 5 minutes(!) with music playing, snow and leaves (with no tree in sight) kinda got on my nerves a little bit – Just get on with it! The big ‘ballroom scene’ was full of ‘new romantics’ and with Visage’s ‘Fade to Grey‘ (well its got French in it ;)) playing we see slow motion shots that would put ‘Louis XIV of France’ to shame.
The transgender community are so starved of programmes they will adopt anything remotely trans. But in this instance the lack of transpeople in the leads, coupled with a rather third-hand tabloid view of what it is like to be transgender was evident, as a result the writer ran out of ideas too quickly and had to resort to a love story. Melvil Poupaud was simply miscast here. He is an obvious heart-throb leading male and no-doubt is much beloved by his fans, but in this it just didn’t work. Whilst I accept there are plenty of transpeople that do not ‘pass’ when they transition and will struggle, Melvil made very little effort to change the voice or even the body language. Much later in the film he was still marching about like a gorilla, and the director put the lead in situations that few transpeople would risk – reminiscent of the, there is a murderer about so lets all stay in the log cabin in the woods and leave an axe outside the door..
As this is coming off the back of the 1980s where most male students seem to be wearing guy-liner with ‘Flock of Seagulls‘ hair styles, it just felt anachronistic (and probably would have been better set in the 70s maybe?). The female cast, were very harshly photographed and came across as Pansticked shoulder-padded harridans in some way to offset how Laurence looked. It didn’t work though.
If the lead were a transperson it may have been a better bet, but this is an issue we constantly face. Throwing a few transpeople into supporting cast (extras) is they way to go now – 15th from the right in a ballroom somewhere is not enough.
I think the director has seen by just how exploiting transgender issues can raise your film into something noteworthy, he has likely seen the success similar ‘dark’ efforts from director Pedro Almodóvar (see: All About My Mother and Bad Education ) who in quick succession realised the value of having a transgender characters and how this elevates the film over the heads of the competition at film festivals – and it wins awards. Well they gotta give us something eh?
That said this is still a good film and the best on offer this year. But there is still considerable scope for improvement – cast some trans actors next time though!
The French have made some good movies though and those I’d recommend also watching would be (for FTMs) Tomboy (2011) and for transkids ‘Ma vie en rose (1997). Having lived in France it certainly helps if you can speak French, it also means you can get a DVD more easily and understand it better without being distracted – watch it twice if you need subs.
So all in all Laurence Anyways is worth watching – especially if you like ‘artsy’ direction. And if you are keen on trans media it is a must have for your library, but you will have to get it from Canada or Europe for now. But that’s only a click away :).