|Suzanne Clément, Melvil Poupaud and Xavier Dolan at Cannes|
I wasn't sure at the start. Laurence Anyways begins with intellectual exercise: lovers entwined on a bed, and in a car, reciting out loud the things that 'limit our pleasure'. The items are all expressions of banality that derive from a culture too invested in surface living; by making their list, Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) and Fréderique or Fred (Suzanne Clément) keep themselves on the outside of banality; they are self-imposed outcasts of the kind of day-to-day clutter that make life "routine". They are passionate and devoted to each other, despite that the film's first dramatic turning point - the revelation of gender identity - happens in that most drôle location of romantic thrill-seekers - the car wash. It took me a long while to try to figure out whether Dolan was trying to establish his lovers, tongue-in-cheek, as a kitsch counterpoint to the 'banal' normal lives of the people around them, or whether his characters were so invested in their drama that they failed to see how it had developed its own banality.
What I loved about this film is its relentless heart. Love pulsates without sexuality: it is a really remarkable thing that a film about the sexually-obssessed 80s and 90s that involves transgendered identity and the sexual morality of a me-generation - does not ever once give us real sex. It is one of the great strengths of Laurence Anyways. Dolan wants us to be absolutely clear that this is about love, about two people who believed their generation could "handle this", the 'this' being a self-reinvention that was not about the outward shows of protest that characterize the "look" of the students in the corridors of the school where Laurence teaches, who watch her arrive on her first open day as a woman. The punk make-up and torn jackets and studded faces of those staring at her, are a fantastic counterpoint to the otherwise elegant and tasteful Laurence, in the slow-motion parade of reactions. We are absolutely meant to wonder, who is in identity crisis?
The lovers part. The lovers are then reunited by art. By the art of Laurence. In their reunion come betrayals of others. And then, in the smaller, but unexpectedly profound betrayals of each other, there is the realization of what has actually been sacrificed so that one of them could find peace. But it's okay. In a strange way, their's is a happy ending. And you sense, as the credits roll, that the story isn't done even so.