Gabrielle Marion-Rivard’s authentic performance adds depth to gentle film.
GABRIELLE (Louise Archambault). 104 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (January 11). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNN
After landing a nomination in the Oscars' foreign-language-film race three years in a row, Canada is going to have to take a seat in the bleachers at the upcoming ceremony. Our latest submission, Gabrielle, failed to make the short list, which won't surprise anyone who sees it.
The gentle and charming romance follows a mentally challenged 22-year-old exploring love and sex for the first time. Quebec writer/director Louise Archambault handles the slightly provocative subject with a touch so sensitive and safe that at times it borders on timid. The most daring feat is the casting of Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, a remarkable actor whose authentic performance in the title role is aided by the fact that she has Williams syndrome, a developmental disorder that manifests itself physically and mentally.
Her Gabrielle is an excitable spirit who expresses herself in a community choir, where her romance with a similarly disabled young man (Alexandre Landry) is stifled by the practical concerns of those around them.
The film doesn't shy away from the challenges of living with disability, but it also refuses to allow such struggles to run their course. While it offers an emotionally sincere, if slight, portrait of a subject most movies would rather ignore, Gabrielle's story gets sidetracked by overtly metaphorical musical numbers that culminate with a grand appearance by Quebecois legend Robert Charlebois.
In the absence of much to chew on, Archambault serves up a musical with crowd-pleasing beats and a candy-coated resolution to satisfy the sweet tooth.