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Love sings a different song in touching Quebec film

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Gabrielle  Marion-Rivard delivers an unfiltered,  joyful  performance.

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Gabrielle Marion-Rivard delivers an unfiltered, joyful performance.

QUEBEC'S entry in the best foreign language film Oscar failed to get a nomination, although it is a strong contender in the upcoming Canadian Screen Awards' best picture category.

It will have to suffice that director Louise Archambault's drama will win quite a few hearts with its sympathetic portrayal of a young woman with a developmental disability stubbornly asserting her right to love.

Gabrielle, like the actress who plays her (Gabrielle Marion-Rivard), is a young woman with Williams syndrome, a developmental disorder that will occasionally manifest in musical gifts such as perfect pitch.

Gabrielle loves singing, and when she is not living in her group home, she is an effusive member of a choir that happens to be prepping for an event providing back-up to Québécois music legend Robert Charlebois.

Other events lurk on the young woman's horizon. Gabrielle's protective older sister Sophie (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) wants to join her boyfriend teaching in India.

And for Gabrielle, love is lifting its troublesome head in the form of fellow choir member Martin (Alexandre Landry). Like any young couple in love, they have a difficult time keeping their hands off one another when left alone. But unlike most young couples, their moves are made under careful scrutiny of both caregivers and concerned parents, understandably worried about the potential for unplanned pregnancies.

Martin's mother moves to extract the lad from Gabrielle's proximity. Gabrielle's emotional response is to lobby her sister and mother for an independent life and an apartment she can call her own. It's a choice that proves to be potentially life-threatening when Sophie allows Gabrielle a shot at independence by letting her stay unsupervised in Sophie's apartment for a day.

Archambault avoids sentimentalizing her heroine. Indeed, she goes where few other filmmakers would dare tread in presenting Gabrielle as young woman with healthy sexual feelings, as opposed to a more typical portrayal of saintly celibacy.

The film's weakness is that it sets up the problems attendant to people like Gabrielle, but doesn't resolve anything, other than allowing all the characters a triumphant climactic musical number with Charlebois.

On that score, while I acknowledge an Anglais unfamiliarity with the Quebec superstar, I came away a bit of a fan.

But the ace up Archambault's sleeve is Gabrielle herself. Marion-Rivard is a charmer, and she could probably teach some professional actors a thing or two about screen spontaneity.

The film derives a bit of humour from the unfiltered nature of the developmentally disabled, as when a care worker and Martin's mother walk in on Martin and Gabrielle half-naked, giving each other temporary tattoos. To calm mom's fears of more serious intimacy, the care worker simply asks: "Gabrielle, did you touch Martin's penis?"

Marion-Rivard's whole performance is likewise unfiltered, especially when in the throes of musical performance.

Marion-Rivard may never be a glamour queen, but when she expresses joy, she can light up the screen like Marlene Dietrich in her prime.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 24, 2014 D5

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