London Film Festival Preview: Laurence Anyways

Xavier Dolan's epic, Queer Palm-winning transsexual love story screens at the 56th London Film Festival, ahead of its November 30 theatrical release

French-Canadian actor turned writer-director Xavier Dolan’s third feature – and he’s still only 23! – is an absorbing portrait of the titular Laurence (Melvil Poupaud, the model of controlled soulfulness): a popular Montreal school teacher who at the end of the 1980s realises that he should have been a woman, so embarks down the arduous path of gender reassignment. A wide spectrum of responses to his decision – familial and societal, private and public – is made flesh by a terrific supporting cast. Suzanne Clément picked up the Un Certain Regard Award for Best Actress at Cannes for her remarkable turn as Laurence’s long-term girlfriend, beset by emotional and sexual turmoil of her own, while Nathalie Baye plays his world-weary mother with a tender ferocity.

The generous 160 minutes running time will likely prove a deal breaker, but it does allow Dolan to indulge his fondness for colourful magic realism flourishes and suitably flamboyant soundtrack interludes. The movie spans the length of the ’90s, but its characters’ musical preferences tend towards the previous decade’s synth-pop, new wave and New Romantic bangers (plus ‘The Funeral Party’ by The Cure, always nice to hear). One nagging issue: whenever there’s a moment of conflict – and this picture has plenty – the Québécois wunderkind switches to hand-held close-up overload, camera lurching between his protagonists’ faces in a manner that undermines, rather than amplifies, their undoubted depths of feeling.

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