By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist October 8, 2013 at 10:04AM
"People think it's a transgendered documentary or something, but for me, it's a love story, more than anything," director Xavier Dolan said this past spring during The Museum Of Modern Art: Modern Mondays presentation of his latest film, "Laurence Anyways." And while the subject matter, bold stylization, '90s setting and runtime that clocks in just under three hours were the kind of elements that could make Dolan an easy critical target, his third film turned out to be arguably his best yet. Unfortunately, however, his movies haven't had the best success in the United States. His first film, the Cannes-winning "I Killed My Mother," got tied up in legal woes preventing it from hitting cinemas stateside for four years. And despite a healthy reception at Cannes for "Laurence Anyways" (read our review), it took over a year for the movie to find its way to theaters, courtesy of the young indie shingle Breaking Glass Pictures. But whether you've seen the film already, or more likely, haven't had a chance, the new Blu-ray release makes it well worth a visit.
Spanning a decade, the film tells the story of a couple whose lives are changed dramatically when Laurence decides to make the transition to become a woman. But far from being an "issues" movie, "Laurence Anyways" is really concerned with relationships and true love, one that that is both enriching, damaging, volatile and wholly crucial to the people involved. Led by ace turns from Melvil Poupaud and Suzanne Clement, it's an often dazzling film, but if theatrically, "Laurence Anyways" didn't quite get the bigger rollout it might've deserved, it's on home video where the appreciation will arguably run deeper.
In an era where DVD and Blu-ray sales are shrinking, and with them, the dollars invested in features, "Laurence Anyways" bucks the trend to a certain degree with the bonus material going far beyond what you might expect these days from an indie release. Most impressively is an hour-long feature dedicated solely to the deleted scenes in the film, but rather than merely collect them into one playlist, Dolan introduces each sequence, explains why it was excised and more. From brief snips to lengthy scenes fleshing out supporting characters (particularly the chorus of the Five Roses), to a running visual metaphor he didn't have time to finish, what emerges from about 45 minutes of material is a fascinating look at the making of the film, and a true appreciation for the tremendous leap in scope and scale Dolan made with "Laurence Anyways."
It's that aspiration that Dolan addresses more directly in the MOMA talk, which is also included in the set, running over an hour as well (co-hosted by Indiewire cohort Peter Knegt). "I was always adamant that I did not have the knowledge or the competence to do a piece that would really focus on the transgendered issue. It was not my field of expertise, it felt wrong. And what I was fascinated with was love [and] still am," Dolan explained. "I wanted to do an ambitious, epic and crazy love story." And he certainly accomplishes all three of those goals. Dolan reveals that after his first two pictures were made for under $1 million, everything got bigger with "Laurence Anyways," starting with the budget that neared $10 million. But his grand ideas also had their share of issues as well.
Dolan candidly reveals that there was a "fight" over the running time, and that as he was cutting the film he brought together focus groups to watch a longer edit, asking them when the film was over how long they thought it was. And apparently, the narrative moved so swiftly, many believed it was only two hours long. But the director also admits the longer runtime closed the doors of opportunity a shorter film might've opened (there were no specifics, but we'd guess some of the bigger indie players in the U.S. might've been more willing to tackle the movie) and even in his native Quebec, he wonders aloud if more people would've gone to see the movie. Dolan is nothing is not self-critical, and though the MOMA conversation touches on all of his films to date, he's most tongue-tied about his sophomore film "Heartbeats," which he clearly isn't fully satisfied with.
Beyond talking about his movies, the MOMA talk closes with Dolan sharing clips from five movies that influenced him, including "Batman Returns," "Titanic," "Magnolia" and "Jumanji" (yes, that "Jumanji," which he offers a pretty passionate defence for). And he closes it out by sharing details on an English-language movie he wants to do about Hollywood itself, something of a satire and scandal picture.
All told, it's an impressive and surprisingly in-depth home video release for "Laurence Anyways" that really provides everything you'd want to know about the movie. And though there is no director's commentary, the extra material more than makes up for it.
"Laurence Anyways" is available on DVD and Blu-ray in stores today.