Gabrielle

Gabrielle is a young woman with Williams syndrome who has a contagious joie de vivre and an exceptional musical gift. Since she met her boyfriend Martin, at the recreation centre where they are choir members, they have been inseparable. However, because they are "different," their loved ones are fearful of their relationship. As the choir prepare for an important music festival, Gabrielle does everything she can to gain her independence. As determined as she is, Gabrielle must still confront other people's prejudices as well as her own limitations in the hope of experiencing a love far from the "ordinary".

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  • ★★★½ review by Jonathan White on Letterboxd

    There have been many takes on those who face mental health challenges and their desires to simply be ‘ordinary’. Lee Chang-dong’s 2002 film Oasis, was a brutal portrayal, but one that ultimately was heart rendering in its unflinching honesty. On the other side of the scale, for me at least, was David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playback, that I felt used metal illness as a trope merely as setup for a feel good dance contest wrapped catharsis. I think Quebec writer / director Louise Archambault’s Gabrielle falls somewhere in-between.

    Some of the story a true portrait, and other parts fictionalized, Gabrielle tells the story of the titular character; a women afflicted with Williams Syndrome. Although I picked up the vibe that Gabrielle’s particular affliction was somewhat rare and special, I later read that those suffering from Williams Syndrome are extremely sociable and usually very musically gifted. It was a positive shock, afterwards, to discover that actress Gabrielle Marion-Rivard is afflicted with Williams Syndrome, and is, in real-life, part of a Quebec singing group Le Muse Montreal, a group of similarly afflicted men and women.

    The central conceit is Gabrielle, a women now in her 20’s, falling in love with another member of the choir, and the ensuing familial difficulties as they both seek to find a life together. This is much like Oasis, but dealt with in a more generous and tender manner. Gabrielle’s love, Martin, portrayed by Quebec actor Alexandre Landre ( who isn’t afflicted with mental health issues ) is sweet and tender, and plays his part with such authenticity it’s hard to imagine the relationship between Gabrielle and Martin being anything but completely true and genuine. The various family members who, naturally, express their concerns about the coupling are played with equal care.

    I know from being married to a Canadian Francophone that their music is more than just music .. it’s their culture, and holds a place of reverence. Bands like Beau Dommage, Harmonium, and Robert Charlebois are all like the Beatles in French Canadian culture. More than that .. while The Beatles reflected the magic, hopes, and aspirations of a particular generation for about a decade, with Quebec culture, it’s a living tapestry that continues from the older, more traditional singers, like Charlebois, through the troubadours of each generation.

    It's important to know this, as a central framing point of the film is Charlebois’ song ‘Ordinary’, something the members aspire to, and a song they plan to sing in an upcoming festival.

    My problem is this. Director Archambault brings Charlebois into the film. At first in a scene meeting the members of Le Muse, but this is the introduction to the fact that Le Muse will be performing on-stage with Charlebois, singing ‘Ordinary’ at the festival. My heart sank. I felt betrayed. This is exactly what Russell did with Silver Linings Playbook. Abandon the mental health and struggle story for a feel good finale. Granted, Archambault’s delicate handling of the characters is far more caring than O. Russell’s ham fisted tourette style shock and awe, but unfortunately the result is the same. The focus is shifted from the real issue to a sing-song hand clapper that will sell well.

    Oasis is still the gold standard here.

  • ★★★★ review by Nick Vass on Letterboxd

    Soul-stirring beyond belief. A film of deep universal power. For starters, allowing me to inhabit Gabrielle's joie de vivre was probably its most rewarding facet. I didn't want to leave this woman after nearly spending two hours with her.

    More specifically, there's something elating about the maturation she discovers through self-confidence, independence and sexual awakening. And of course, her own learning gives way to moments of heartbreak and fright. Two scenes utilize the most brilliant use of salient silence in years (Gabrielle and Martin sharing their first kiss / Gabrielle wandering the streets all alone) with a deliverance in moving results. Marion-Rivard, who has Williams syndrome in real life, is phenomenal as the protagonist that has every right to love. Landry also comes close to matching her work. Poulin, surrounded by mother and sibling, has an agonizingly emotional scene.

    Fantastic work by non-professional and professional actors in the choir-swelling, musical moments as well. Deserving of a higher rating, but I'd need to make sure on re-watch.

  • ★★★½ review by Steven Sheehan on Letterboxd

    Gabrielle has Williams syndrome, a rare developmental disability that restricts the freedoms available to her in life. She is musically gifted, singing in a choir with other mentally challenged men and women preparing for a big performance at a local Quebec festival with Robert Charlebois. Gabrielle wants to experience the world wherever possible, just like any other woman.

    She is played by Gabrielle Marion-Rivard who lives with the syndrome in real-life and it is her raw honesty that asks some challenging questions most of us rarely think twice about. Written and directed by Louise Archambault, this was Canada's submission for the Oscar's, although it was not selected for a final nomination.

    The story is centred around Les Muses Centre, an arts performance school that Gabrielle visits for the concert practice sessions. Also in attendance is Martin, played to great effect by professional actor Alexandre Landry and their feelings for each other soon turn into love. Neither live alone due to their respective disabilities and it is this lack of independence that provides the meat of the story.

    Gab's sister Sophie wants to leave the country to join her boyfriend in India although understandably concerned with 'abandoning' her sibling. Martin lives with his mother who casts a frown on the idea of the couple being physical with each other, a less relaxed attitude than Sophie's. Gabrielle wants to live by herself, make her own decisions, enjoy her love with Martin without being restricted like a child.

    Although not all of the characters are fully fleshed out, Marion-Rivard brings an effervescence to the screen that stops those issues standing out too much. Seeing the world from her point of view is a refreshing change not often seen on the big, or any, screen. There is some emotional manipulation but not enough saccharine to ruin the raw, handheld approach of the director.

    The issues raised are never really explored enough once they are initially discussed and the ending is rather tamely ambiguous. That said, there are no easy solutions for anyone who experiences mental difficulties or for the concerned relatives and to expect that in a film is perhaps too much. Gabrielle isn't just attempting to make itself an issue film either, as that would undermine the very point it wants to make that love doesn't concern itself with physical or mental restrictions.

  • ★★★½ review by William Tell on Letterboxd

    As a young woman with Williams syndrome, Gabrielle lives in a communal home where she has many friends and leads a very comfortable life. She sings in Les Muses Chorale, where Martin, played brilliantly by Alexandre Landry, also participates. Their feelings for each other soon turn into love, but neither live alone due to their disabilities – a lack of independence that provides the major plotline of the film. Gabrielle's sister Sophie wants to leave the country to join her boyfriend in India, yet she is understandably concerned with leaving her sibling behind. Martin lives with his mother who is fiercely protective and disgusted by her son’s physical relationship with Gabrielle, destroying their happiness by forbidding any communication between them. However, Gabrielle is a strong woman searching for independence and one who follows her desires and convictions: after all, Louise Archambault’s film is completely supported on the shoulders of this glorious woman.

    She is played wonderfully by Gabrielle Marion-Rivard with heartbreaking realism and an endearing personality, whose chemistry with her co-stars is effervescent. Everything about her is engaging and refreshing, her infectious smile and pure joie de vivre give this earnest and heartwarming film a virtuous spirit. To see how Gabrielle’s life evolves and the way she shapes it is quite delightful and reminds our chaotic society that mentally-afflicted people can, too, have perfectly independent and natural lives, replete with love. The brave thing in Louise Archambault’s Gabrielle is precisely that she films her protagonist with as much realism and passion as she can, while never seeming belittling or unprincipled. The unconstrained sexuality of the characters, for example, is naturally depicted and gives a sense of honesty and handheld rawness rarely shown in similarly-themed works. Scenes in which the cinematography blurs, and the soundtrack abruptly halts, leaving only silence, also effectively convey the episodes of Gabrielle’s confusion, with much beauty.

    Although not all of the characters are fully fleshed out, Marion-Rivard brings to the screen such powerful character that those issues are neatly sidetracked. There is also some emotional manipulation, and a questionable ending, but not enough saccharine to ruin the beautiful pace of the picture and its delicate approach. In the end, Archambault has enough grip of her work to inject some solid craft while proving that love indeed doesn't concern itself with physical or mental restrictions.

    | Direction: 7,0                               | Sound: 7,0

    | Screenplay: 7,5                           | Editing: 7,5

    | Acting: 9,0                                     | Entertainment: 9,0

    | Visuals: 7,5                                    | Overall Rating: 7,6

  • ★★★★ review by Michael Scott on Letterboxd

    Gabrielle is a young woman living in respite care. She's social, talkative, relatively carefree. She sings in Les Muses Chorale, a choir for people living with intellectual disabilities. In the sun bathed music room her warmth, her movement, her singing stands out. She is the kind of embracing soul who lives life as if she could never be unhappy. But Gabrielle is about to find love.

    Writer/director Louise Archambault's second feature is an exceptionally well-observed, beautifully rendered portrait of a young woman suddenly faced some rather epic life-evolving changes. Pitched as narrative but with the naturalism of direct cinema, Gabrielle astonishes with its disarming central performances.

    The first and most startling of these is from Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, the young woman with Williams syndrome, around whom Archambault has constructed her film. Marion-Rivard has quite justly picked up this year's Canadian Screen Award for Best Actress. I'm sure if more people could experience her touchingly open screen presence she'd be garnering many more awards. She's fresh, she's open and she's absolutely and unashamedly moving. And, as if that was not enough, her chemistry with her similarly impressive (and impressively clear-eyed) co-star, Alexandre Landry, practically crackles with electricity. Their burgeoning relationship is a heart-expanding core for this delightful film.

    It is not all beer and topless bedroom dancing though. In the film's more sombre quarters, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin is superb as Gabrielle's sister, Sophie. She's Gabrielle's secondary caregiver outside the respite home and her chemistry with Marion-Rivard is, again, extraordinarily touching (you should be noticing the common element here). Their relationship, slowly buckling under the weight of competing responsibilities and Gabrielle's desperation for independence, provides much of the film's drama and accounts for at least half a box of tissues by the time the credits roll.

    Rest assured, the other half won't go to waste because Gabrielle's exceptional musical performers, including Marion-Rivard and Landry, aren't shy about sawing at the heartstrings. Archambault has positioned the film's choral performances, most of them in preparation for the choir's upcoming engagement with Québécois singer, Robert Charlebois, to reflect the themes of the surrounding drama so the pieces quickly gain emotional resonance. Their repeated refrains build a subtle rhythm into the film and ultimately bring a satisfying sense of completion to the Gabrielle's hand clapping finalé.


    Gabrielle is simple film. It deals with simple themes, it plays out simply and it draws out a deeply emotional response through its director's unadorned, unhampered approach. Just like her title character and her lead actress, Archambault is not afraid to treat big concepts with a bracing naivety. In doing so, she cuts incisively to the quick and presents her tactile love story unapologetically, taking little note of the white-noise of cultural taboo. In doing so she delivers a film of genuine honesty and warmth. Rewarding cinema.

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