I am woman – Laurence Anyways review

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By Richard Haridy
May 7, 2013

French-Canadian Xavier Dolan is truly the definition of a wunderkind. Only 23 years old, he’s already made three critically acclaimed feature films, all of which premiered at Cannes. His latest, Laurence Anyways – a nearly three-hour opus telling the story of a transsexual man in the late 1980s and early 1990s – highlights both Dolan’s strengths and weaknesses as a young filmmaker.

Iconic French actor Melvil Poupaud plays Laurence, a young novelist and literature professor in Montreal deeply in love with Fred (Suzanne Clément), his impassioned girlfriend. One day, Laurence confesses his deepest secret to Fred: he feels he is a woman trapped in a man’s body and plans to start wearing women’s clothing. Fred initially learns to support Laurence with his transformation, until the subtle oppressive nature of conventional society begins to take its toll.

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Laurence Anyways is a crazily ambitious picture. With a story that spans over a decade, Dolan shoots in a retro, boxy, 4:3 ratio, often flooding the frame with colour as if he were Douglas Sirk’s bastard child. Impeccably designed, styled, and composed, there is much to appreciate here. However, stretched out to nearly three hours, this is also self-indulgence at its worst. Dolan alternates between piercingly truthful emotional outbursts shot with a Cassavetes sense of realism and dream-like swathes of lyricism.

Dolan’s choice to set this tale in an era he was barely alive during also comes across as a frustrating hipster affectation. Some may defend the setting as a way to frame the story within a more dramatically effective, pre-politically correct era. Yet, the constant barrage of stylised slo-mo montages dripping with period hairstyles and costumes seem to indicate Dolan’s priorities lying elsewhere.

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It’s bold, brash, and frequently successful, but also repetitive and ultimately arduous. There simply isn’t enough story here to justify the inflated running time and, for many, Laurence Anyways will wear out its welcome. Despite its significant failings, Laurence Anyways is still an important feature from a major voice in world cinema. This visually stunning and narratively audacious movie won’t appeal to all but the urgency of its presentation is hard to ignore.

3.5/5

Laurence Anyways is available on DVD and via Pay Per Play from May 8, 2013.

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