In recognition of the Supreme Court’s landmark dismissal of California’s Proposition 8 and its striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act, MovieMaker’s Weekend Pick this Thursday is Laurence Anyways, which tells the story of a transgendered man and the woman who loves him.
“Baroque.” “Pretentious.” “Indulgent.” “Immodest.” These are some of the adjectives being bandied around by critics about Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways, and it is harder than you’d think to guess which are praise and which snubs. We love a conversation starter, and this is not a film that sticks shyly to the middle of the road — it is an ambitious, bold epic whose protagonist’s personal flamboyance is matched by that of its creator’s cinematic flourishes. A movie as big as this one (and not just in runtime — Laurence Anyways is 161 minutes long) is perhaps the kind of movie only a director under 25 could make, visibly intoxicated with the boundlessness of his medium. Dolan’s talents with a lens are as evident as ever: many shots are staggeringly beautiful, all steam and snow and ‘90s Montreal atmosphere.
The film’s real strength, though, are the electric performances from Melvil Poupaud as Laurence and Suzanne Clément (winner of last year’s Un Certain Regard award for Best Actress at Cannes) as Fred, his girlfriend. Dolan’s screenplay shows off his gift for the tonal nuances of interpersonal communication – dialogue is vicious and reflective in turn, leaving the film simultaneously melancholy and full of a mordant humor that runs beneath its surface like a bruise. In all, Dolan’s third film is both in keeping with and a departure from his previous efforts, and we look forward to his next.
The following interview with Dolan, conducted by MM contributor Aaron Hillis, appeared in a longer form in our most recent summer issue. In it, Dolan describes a transgender romance as the ultimate version of star-crossed lovers – a reality that may well change after this historic week.
MM: (In Laurence Anyways) you’re writing for characters that are older than you and, by default, would have some life experiences that you haven’t yet. How conscious were you of that in the writing stage, and do you think it affected the work or your actors’ approach?
XD: I think pretty much everybody working with me—95 percent of them are my elders—agree that there is no palpable age gap between me and them. I’ve always been an old soul since I was a kid, fighting with other children really early—five, six, having girlfriends at seven, becoming a teenager at basically 10, calling my mother “honey,” trying to be a husband to her because I was afraid she felt lonely since my dad had left. Then boarding school until 12, and writing a first series for a producer at 16… To me, within the context of my own life, everything that happened seemed logical.
MM: I appreciated that there are no ciphers in this film—for instance, no one-dimensional characters didactically representing the societal hardships of a transsexual. In my opinion, the film seems more concerned with impossible love and general ostracism of being “the Other.” What drew you to this, in terms of the specific beats or angles within?
XD: What attracted me was merely, and from the very beginning, the possibility of telling the “ultimate” impossible love story—made impossible by the ultimate expression of difference amongst the couple, and society, subsequently. For me, transsexualism seemed like one of these utterly complex problems that, in the movie, ended up being a metaphor for the pursuit of authenticity. When, in love, you ask the other to accept you as you are, once the honeymoon is over and you want to stop pretending to be someone else. That is the search for truth, within yourself at first, and from others.
MM: Other than support or gratitude, have you had any complicated or surprising reactions from the transgender community?
XD: Last I checked, the feedback from the LGBT community hasn’t been so important—perhaps because it was never announced or labeled as such. People don’t come to me and say, “Hey, I’m gay, which is why I loved it.” Things are rather tacit, now. I love to think that many straight people saw the film—it’s true, actually—and appreciated it for what they thought it was: a declaration to love and its surrounding concepts. But I did hear about some transsexuals who thought the movie was coy in terms of portraying the transgender reality, which is basically what I was never interested in. I’m not a documentarian. Some other people said, “It’s not realistic. A transsexual would never walk into a school like this. It’s suicide.” A community is made of individuals reacting differently, acting in a personal way. The transgender community isn’t a sect or a union, it’s a group of people who bond through a state of mind, a state of being. Beyond that, each is free to live his or her life following their own values and instincts. “Realistic.” That word is completely stupid. I think a movie should make sense within the context of its own story, but not withdrawn from its cinematic world and tossed in the “real” world.
MM: Your films always have impeccable flair, from the costumes to the production design and the camerawork itself. I realize how hard it is to pinpoint aesthetic inspirations since they’re not always deliberate, but who were your patron saints of style?
XD: I am mostly inspired by painters and photographers. I can’t tell you which. All of them. From Matisse to Bosch and Pedro Meyer to Nan Goldin, every image, every picture leads you to something else; a new idea in itself, and in which people can’t necessarily identify the initial inciting idea—although they always think they can, naming films I’ve never seen. That’s inspiration, rather than influence. Except in I Killed My Mother, in which I lamely aped—in vain—some of Wong Kar-wai’s slow motion shots from In the Mood for Love, I was never really influenced in a way that I would copy or vaguely pastiche people’s work in my films. The more I work, the more I write, the more I start acting like myself, I really find what I love and hate as a person and a filmmaker. In Heartbeats, the talking heads were mostly inspired by Woody Allen’s genius interviews in Husbands and Wives. After that, I’ll have a hard time telling you what my influences are. Although there is always a place in my heart, and my films, for a little Titanic tribute. Think about it.