I recently saw the film Laurence Anyways at ACMI. It’s a visually stunning and emotionally complex Canadian film (mostly in French with English subtitles) about the relationship between a woman Fred(erique) and a man Laurence who, years into their relationship, tells Fred he feels that he has always been a women mentally and wants to become one physically.
The narrative moves forwards and back in time during the 1980s and 1990s to depict Laurence’s transition to become a woman and the different stages of her on and off relationship with Fred. The final scene in the film is the day of their meeting, which reflects the narrative structure of (and may be a homage to) François Ozon’s 5 x 2.
It further reminds me of 5 x 2 in its use of music that is thematically related to the narrative, with a soundtrack featuring Visage, Duran Duran and Depeche Mode. Melvil Poupaud, who plays Laurence, looks and is styled to appear very much like a young Phil Oakey (of The Human League). It may be the first great 1980s costume drama.
At 160 minutes the film is too long, but it is otherwise impressive and sophisticated in its ability to convey mood and atmosphere through dialogue and action as well as symbolically through image and sound. Writer / director / costume designer Xavier Dolan is in his early twenties, yet the film is a mature work that demonstrates significant skill in filmmaking.
It’s also strange in that the film is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio like an old television show rather than widescreen aspect ratios that are typical for cinema and modern television.
What confuses me most is why ACMI is showing this film outside any festival or season in sleepy January. The timing of the screening of this film guaranteed it a very limited audience (there were about 25 people at the session I attended, held in the large cinema that seats 600).
This seems typical of ACMI’s history of poor marketing and limited engagement with other cultural events. Its income has stagnated, resulting in significant staffing and programming cuts. I love ACMI’s purpose, but remain frustrated at its ongoing struggle to connect with audiences. I’ve seen too many things there surrounded by empty seats.
Having screened at Cannes in 2012, Laurence Anyways seems like the kind of film that could feature at MIFF or, given its queer theme, at the current Midsumma festival, but it is not part of this. However, it is listed in the 2013 French Film Festival program in March.
I can’t understand why distributor Madman would want the film screened at this time, in this manner, ahead of the festival and without any association to it. Perhaps it’s a screen test to help determine its future beyond the festival.
If you’ve missed it at ACMI, you’ll be able to see it at the French Film Festival in March (the list of films is out already but not the schedule).