After I Killed My Mother and Heartbeats, 23-year-old filmmaker Dolan gets even more ambitious with this epic-length romantic drama. Not all of his flourishes work, and the film is far too long, but there are moments of artistic genius all the way through that make it worth seeing. It's also anchored by two terrific central performances that work their way under our skin.
At the centre is the free-spirited relationship between Laurence (Poupaud) and his long-time girlfriend Fred (Clement). But Fred is caught completely off-guard when Laurence tells her that he has always felt like he was a man in a woman's body, and now he wants to start the transition to become female. She initially rejects him, but realises that she still loves him, regardless of his gender. His mother (Baye) takes longer to come round. And for Laurence the treatment from his colleagues and society at large is even more difficult to cope with, as he's the brunt of rampant bigotry. Over the course of a decade, his relationship with Fred is stretched to the breaking point, and after a few years apart they meet up again to see if they still belong together.
Poupaud and Clement deliver startlingly naturalistic performances as Laurence and Fred, letting us see into their souls as they face secrets, betrayals, outside pressure and the continual feeling that they belong together. Intriguingly, all of this unfurls in a way that's completely organic, as Dolan grounds everything in real human emotions. In fact, the only complaint is that the film feels artistically indulgent, and could have used a stronger editor to shape the story into a leaner, less rambling narrative.
That said, it's so packed with clever touches that it's impossible to ignore. Set between 1989 and 1999, Dolan never overdoes the period detail but continually reminds us of the time with inventive touches, including some remarkably stylised set pieces. He also manages to capture each character's confusion and conflicting emotions without letting anyone become unlikeable. By the end, when we see Laurence in all his glory, we finally understand what he's been feeling all along. And we see in Dolan a young filmmaker who is still developing his considerable skills.
Run time: 168 mins
In Theaters: Friday 28th June 2013
Distributed by: Breaking Glass Pictures
Production compaines: MK2 Productions
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Fresh: 48 Rotten: 10
IMDB: 7.5 / 10
Director: Xavier Dolan
Producer: Charles Gillibert, Nathanael Karmitz, Lyse Lafontaine
Screenwriter: Xavier Dolan
Starring: Melvil Poupaud as Laurence Alia, Suzanne Clément as Fred Bellair, Nathalie Baye as Julienne Alia, Monia Chokri as Stéfanie Bellair, Yves Jacques as Michel Lafortune, Sophie Faucher as Andrée Bellair, Mylène Jampanoï as Fanny, Susan Almgren as La journaliste, Magalie Lépine Blondeau as Charlotte, David Savard as Albert
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