Visionary Canadian director Xavier Dolan is still just 23, yet he is on to his third feature film. The stylish French language melodrama 'Laurence Anyways' follows last year's mixed offering 'Heartbeats'. His latest feature examines the under-explored transgender world, following college professor Laurence during his turbulent male-to-female transition.
Melvil Poupaud portrays Laurence, a seemingly happy middle aged man in a loving relationship with Suzanne Clément's Fred. This is just a facade however, as Laurence yearns to feel comfortable in his own skin - transitioning to female - encountering discrimination in the workplace, a difficult relationship with her parents, and strife in everyday life.
'Laurence Anyways' is far too long, at almost three hours, yet it is often spectacular. The visual aspects often delight, with one scene involving falling clothes proving particularly vivid. Similarly, the triumphant soundtrack (featuring The Cure, Depeche Mode and Fever Ray) is reminiscent of the superb offerings that elevated 'Drive', in terms of its evocative feel.
The frustrations of the central couple as they struggle to maintain their relationship under the unexpected circumstances are engrossing. A charged monologue delivered by Suzanne Clément in a restaurant, as her emotions prove overwhelming, is surely one of the most powerful cinematic scenes of the year.
Other moments don't quite succeed, especially a heavy-handed metamorphosis metaphor which sees a butterfly emerge from Laurence's mouth - Dolan's visual style seems too insistent at times. However, contemporary cinema lacks transgender-focussed features and Dolan's effort is largely credible. With a tighter edit, 'Laurence Anyways' could have been much more.
'Laurence Anyways' is out in UK cinemas on Friday, through Network Releasing.