Director: Louise Archambault Writer: Louise Archambault Actors: Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, Alexandre Landry, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Benoit Gouin, Vincent-Guillaume Otis Runtime: 104 min Rating: 14A
Gabrielle is a movie about relationships – yet with a twist. The individuals presented on screen are certainly extraordinary, due not only to their musical gifts, but also because of the unique challenges they face due to their developmental disabilities. This film goes beyond simply depicting a romantic relationship, however, delving into the world of sisterly bonds as well. Poignant, thought provoking, and full of happiness and heart, Gabrielle is a simple film that does not just depict people falling in love – it causes the audience to become enamoured as well.
Gabrielle (Gabrielle Marion-Rivard), a young woman with Williams syndrome, cannot hide her joy and enthusiasm for life, especially after falling in love with Martin (Alexandre Landry), a young man who attends the same recreation centre and sings in the same choir. When Gabrielle discovers that she is not allowed to have a physical relationship with her boyfriend, she sets out to prove autonomy with the support of her loving sister Sophie (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and kind guardian Laurent (Benoit Gouin). Along the way, their choir prepares for an exciting upcoming concert, and music is never far from the mind of the characters or the ears of the audience.
Rarely does one encounter a film so full of life and joy, and director Louise Archambault draws forth wonderful performances from her talented cast. Many of these actors, including Marion-Rivard, do indeed have the developmental challenges that they portray in their characters; this strategy in handling the subject matter results in wholly accurate nuances and a truly real and believable film. Many of the actors, particularly Marion-Rivard and Désormeaux-Poulin, deliver powerful and emotional performances, and the sisterly bond between Gabrielle and Sophie is genuine and moving. In addition, Gabrielle and Martin’s relationship itself cannot help but charm; one could not ask for two nicer people, and an audience cannot help but root for them to end up together.
As Gabrielle’s choir prepares for their concert, the audience goes along for the ride. The choir members sing with the voices of angels, and the music they create is both arresting and beautiful, truly demonstrating the passion and emotion that can result when song is used as a creative outlet. This music often fills in the background of scenes, and contrasting moments of stark silence stand out, forcing the attention of the audience onto the images on screen and highlighting the emotions felt by the characters. The filming style is simple and organic, and the straightforward approach of the film mimics the no-nonsense attitude that Laurent takes as he cares for his charges of varying abilities. We often see the world through the eyes of the characters, as Archambault uses a handheld camera to place the audience in their positions. This technique strengthens our relationship with the characters, and increases our understanding and appreciation of their unique challenges.
Before the screening of Gabrielle that I attended at the Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival, director Archambault appeared on stage to respectfully thank all those that inspired the film, from the inspirational individuals who have the challenges to the endlessly patient workers who devote their lives to helping them each day. I was struck by her humbleness, as well as her genuine excitement at sharing her film at the Festival. Gabrielle is a sweet and sensitive film, full of music and joy, and both the director and incredible cast members should be proud of all that it accomplishes.