Review: Gabrielle - A Love That Exists With All-Welcoming Arms

Gabrielle, Canada's Submission for the Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. U.S. : Entertainment One Films U.S. International Sales Agent: Entertainment One Films International

It's easy to admit that everyone, and that should really mean everyone, deserves to be loved. Not only to be loved, but to fall in love. Unjustifiably society still makes exceptions, and sadly deems certain individuals unfit to experience that deep connection with another person. Rarely portrayed in film as self- sufficient beings, handicapped people are indeed like everyone else when it comes to matters of the heart. Bravely and with heartwarming tact Québécois director Louise Archambault blends a fictional storyline with documentary-like elements in Gabrielle to construct one of the most moving films of the year, and unquestionably one that honors the differences and special qualities of those often kept in the sidelines.

For Gabrielle (Gabrielle Marion-Rivard), the cheerful protagonist, every day seems to be a wondrous adventure. She is a young woman who lives with an infectious happiness for life which shines though her beautifully charming smile. She works at a regular office job and also sings in a local choir, and her days are filled with excitement. Yes, Gabrielle falls into the category of handicapped, but although born with Williams syndrome and living in a facility for individuals with a variety of conditions, she has dreams, aspirations, and wants to one day form a family with her boyfriend Martin (played marvelously by Alexandre Landry), who is not handicapped in real life. He is also an intellectually challenged young man who is part of her singing group at the Les Muses center. As their romance progresses from a simply platonic friendship into their sexual awaking, his mother decides they cannot be together as she believes their condition disqualifies them from the hardships of a romantic relationship.

Heartbroken Gabrielle seems not to be able to concentrate in any of her activities. She is in love. In an effort to bring back her beloved Martin into her life she attempts to be fully independent and demands her own apartment, but her own limitations get in her way. Her sister Sophie (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin), her most reliable moral support, has the decided to follow her fiancé to India, a situation that heightens Gabrielle’s distress at that same time that she must prepare for an important live performance with her choir without Martin’s support.

Like few other directors, Archambault’s filmmaking convictions are utterly inspirational. She cast most of her actors directly from the actual educational center where the story takes place. Not only does this provide her film with remarkable authenticity, something that could not have happened with actors playing make-believe versions of their experience, but it also highlights the talent of these amazing people who are often dismissed as incapable of complex understanding. The director strongly positions the viewer to see them as tridimensional characters full of nuances. They dance, sing, and show their emotions without the societal inhibitions that prevent all others living a “normal” existence, from experiencing every moment to the fullest. Untainted by judgment, Gabrielle, Martin, and their comrades are essentially the purest, most loyal characters one can encounter, and Archambault captures their endless willingness to accept and love others gracefully.

One of the crucial numbers the colorful choir members work on for their show with Robert Charlebois (who actually appears in the film) is his song “Ordinaire” (Ordinary), which Gabrielle has designated as Martin’s song, and what a fitting tune it is. Regardless of their differences, their special needs or particular shortcomings, these fantastically loving individuals are ordinary where it counts. Yet, their circumstances force them to achieve their goals in unordinary ways, which really makes them exemplary and special. Gabrielle Marion-Rivard embodies happiness and perseverance, her performance is sure to transfer that to the audience. Surely an amazingly unique love story, Gabrielle is a joyous and touching portrayal of a singular kind of love, one that is not ruled by vanity or lust, but just exists with all-welcoming open arms. Above all, one thing is made clear, the only disability that can really prevent anyone from being happy is not being able to love, and in that field Gabrielle is above average, if not gifted.

'Gabrielle' Opens in NYC (Village East Cinemas) and L.A (Laemmle's Music Hall 3) on Friday July 4th, 2014

Read more about all the 76 Best Foreign Language Film Submission for the 2014 Academy Awards

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