Welcome to our ongoing coverage of this year’s London Film Festival. We’ll be going live with an in-depth review of a specific film that’s playing at this year’s festival daily, while you can keep an eye on our Twitter feed for broader reaction.
As with its titular namesake Laurence Anyways is a temporally challenging movie, but while Lawrence Of Arabia is as epic in scope as one can imagine this is quite the opposite. Xavier Dolan’s third film is intimate, in both vision and aesthetics, while where Lean turned to 65mm, the Canadian wunderkind looks to even further back than 1962 and the Academy ratio. This makes for a startling vision in 2012. While the academy ratio isn’t especially rare these days (Tabu, Meek’s Cutoff, the complete works of Andrea Arnold) it remains an overt practice to see on the big screen in this age of the second coming of IMAX.
The film itself charts ten years in the life of Laurence Alia (Melvil Poupaud), as he goes through a sex change. As the tale unfolds we see the effect his decision has on his relationship with his girlfriend Fred (Suzanne Clément), his stubborn parents and his working life. The focus is largely on the emotional, in turn leaving the plot to be rather slight, in spite of the size of the canvas that Dolan is working with. That’s not a complaint tho, for it’s as a cerebral and affecting experience that the film works most effectively.
Almodóvar is the obvious touching point, with the spanish filmmakers trademark brand of mainstream LGBT cinema the closest commercial comparison to Dolan’s own work. Aesthetics are defined by a very clean look, which brings to mind everything from Urban Outfitter and John Lewis adverts to the pop music videos of the period in which the film is set. The gritty is stylised, with a brutal fight sequence turned cartoon (although admittedly it’s more Daisuke Nishio than Disney Pixar), while elsewhere a party sequence scored to Duran Duran plays out like the ultimate homage to the pop music of the 1980's.
Music is perhaps Dolan’s most relied upon tool, with a mixture of classical and pop music turning the most drab sequences in to the most dramatic (Rain + Beethoven = fantastic). Craig Armstrong’s ‘Let’s Go Out Tonight’ provides the films epitaph, and one of the most moving moments of this years London Film Festival, it’s understated and emotionally driven lyricism proving the perfect come-down from the chaotic scenes that have played out before.
While clearly a work that bears the voice of it’s director above all else, Laurence Anyways is a film that hinges on a pair of outstanding performances. Poupaud carries the framework of the movie remarkably well, with the complexity of the figure over such an extended period of time making for an awe-inspiring turn, while Clément, as the unsung “victim” of the scenario is essentially the films heartbeat, her plight and breakdown a thing of beauty. In keeping with the story at hand Dolan inverts the gender roles in a really subtle way too (Fred being the name of the female lead is surely no coincidence…).
Laurence Anyways is a piece of urgent cinema being presented by a powerful and confident young voice. In fact, its this immediacy that that becomes it’s greatest problem: it’s so of the now that it lacks barely any afterglow. But alas, as a piece of engaging and instant cinema it’s a great achievement.