Wednesday, September 11, 2013

TIFF 2013: Gabrielle

Sisters Sophie & Gabrielle 
(Désormeaux-Poulin & Marion-Rivard)
Gabrielle (Canada, 2013) directed by Louise Archambault, 104 minutes, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, 9a
Gabrielle is a film about a developmentally challenged young woman's desire to be free, to be independent and that includes the right to sexual freedom and to live on her own.

Gabrielle (Gabrielle Marion-Rivard who is in fact developmentally challenged) lives in a group home and sings in a choir for developmentally challenged adults. She is in love with Martin (Alexandre Landry) and the couple are attracted to each other physically and emotionally. Gabrielle's sister Sophie (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) is on the cusp of seeking her own independence and will soon leave for India to join her partner but fears the effect that this will have on Gabrielle. There is a mother on the scene but she is somewhat removed from Gabrielle's life. The responsibility rests with Sophie.

The film raises some thorny issues about the rights of the disabled to engage in sexual activity with other consenting adults - should precautions be taken? Is this fair to the individual to impose birth control means? How far should her independence extend? What is society's responsibility in this issue?

When Martin's mother asks if Gabrielle is "fixed", Sophie ferociously asks if Martin has had a vasectomy. Why Gabrielle but not Martin she wants to know? But, sadly, the repercussions for Gabrielle are more dire, of great consequence, and the filmmaker eludes that thorny issue instead focusing on the lovely and touching relationship between the two. You can see the chemistry between the two here

Marion-Rivard is joyous in the role, exuding a gentle radiance that is impossible to dislike. Landry, an actor who does not have a disability, is convincing, utterly charming, in this role. The audience roots for the two lovers but one cannot but walk away with the anxieties that Martin's mother expressed: what will become of the two if left to their own devices and wishes? What is best for them?

I think I disappointed my filmgoing friend with my hesitant response after the film ... I just kept thinking how I would handle this as a mother of a developmentally challenged young adult (boring, I know, but the issue needled me). The answer is not easy and I think the filmmaker skirted it by presenting the two as sort of star-crossed lovers whose rights were being trampled. It's more complicated than that and I think the director knows that. 

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