Two years ago during the 63rd Festival de Cannes I stood for two hours in front of Salle Debussy to see Xavier Dolan's Les Amours Imaginaires. Even though I showed up at the theatre considerably early, the number of people who arrived before me was overwhelming to a point where I started to doubt I would manage to get in. The level of excitement ahead of Dolan's nawest piece Laurence Anyways, if judged by the number of people who queued up two hours ahead of the screening, was certainly smaller. Yet as the time went on, more and more people started showing up and the crowd managed to fill up Debussy from top to bottom.
Why is the whole queuing up ritual so important? Well, I think there is some level of anticipation and familiarity with Dolan's craft that his devotees (aka the loosers who waited in front of the theatre for so long) have when going to see Laurence. I am not saying that whomever showed up closer to the time of screening was not as excited, but they probably didn't consider seeing his newest film as such a big thing as I did.
Ok, get to the point Adam. I was simply thrilled to see the film, to know that it will tell a sex change story (topic that was very popular at last year's Sundance), and to see Monic Chikori as one of the leads again. But here's the thing about expectations, the higher they are, the harder you fall. And did I fall hard!
Seems like the old rule about Woody Allen's films: a Woody Allen film without Woody in it is not a Woody Allen film, fits Dolan's craft perfectly. Now that the director was not occupied with acting in his film, he tried to compensate by taking care of post production like he never did before. The film is built in the following way: it is a very long string of segments which all begin with a masterfully aesthetised opening shot accompanied by loud music, and then are followed by a number of slow-mo shots and conversations which don't always bring anything new or interesting to the overall narrative.
The style he adopted for his latest flick is filled with cheesy references to the 80's/90's pop culture showcased by glossy shots and corky costumes. It all captivates very well in the beginning of the film, but as the time goes by, the amount of effects used starts to irritate because a. The aesthetics don't bring any additional commentary to the presented story b. As a stand alone feature of the film they are simply pointless.
So consumed in building the aesthetical scelletone of the film, Dolan naglects the narrative. The story of the main character's sex change is eventually pushed to the background and the story of Laurence's relationship with his girlfriend Frank takes the spotlight. The transition from one story to another has no motivation in the narrative, becomes frustrating as one begs to ask what this film is supposed to be really about.
And the film is more about Dolan then about any of his fictional characters. It is about his over-confidence, about his desire to surprise, about his fascination with Almodovar, and about his affair with impressionistic imagery rather than a story.
But no matter how irritating and dreary this nearly 3 hours long spectacle was, it did not stop the audience of Debussy from giving Dolan a 10 minutes long standing ovation. I like to think of Laurence... as a practical joke: Dolan thought to himself, let's make a long boring pointless film and see if the idiots at Cannes will still clap for me. And they did.
Point of the story: do not encourage bad filmmaking. The joke is on you, Cannes.