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article imageReview: ‘Gabrielle’s joie de vivre is contagious Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jan 12, 2014 in Entertainment
In ‘Gabrielle,’ a young woman is prevented from seeing her boyfriend because she has Williams syndrome and their caregivers are fearful of their relationship.
It's not often people with special needs are depicted in films, let alone fictional dramas rather than documentaries or biopics. Gabrielle is a coming-of-age tale that deals with common struggles complicated by the protagonist's mental challenges and other people's opinions about her limitations. Quebecois writer/director Louise Archambault's sophomore feature is a skillfully told celebration of the human spirit.
Gabrielle (Gabrielle Marion-Rivard) is a woman with Williams syndrome living in a group home for developmentally challenged adults. She focuses her inherited musical talents in a choir that is rehearsing for a major concert at which they will accompany singer Robert Charlebois. When Gabrielle and fellow vocalist Martin (Alexandre Landry) fall in love, they encounter more than the usual obstacles. Wishing to express their feelings physically, they are forced to defend their desires to numerous objectors who aim to manage their relationship. Convinced living alone will allow her to achieve the intimacy she craves, Gabrielle sets out to prove she can be independent.
Though the core of their love story is simple, it's rooted in an array of issues regarding guardianship, understanding and procreation. One character actually questions whether Gabrielle has been sterilized. This same person believes Martin is old enough to earn a living, but not to be in an intimate relationship. Conversely, Gabrielle’s sister is her champion even though her support often tests her patience. Gabrielle sees the lifestyles of her family and friends, linking their independence with their happiness. She wants the same for herself, and therefore tests her ability and grasp of total autonomy.
The choir is frequently shown practicing Charlebois’ hit, “Ordinaire.” The song’s lyrics – “I’m just an ordinary guy” – performed by the singing group is doubly meaningful, effectively expressing the members’ desire to be treated normally. In most cases, it would be unthinkable for someone to separate two twenty-somethings; Gabrielle and Martin want the same courtesy.
Archambault’s touch is gentle, allowing the story to unfold naturally. Marion-Rivard was not a professional actor, but she could identify with the character because she has Williams syndrome as well. Therefore Archambault coached her while they waited for the funding for the film, and Marion-Rivard clearly benefitted because she shines on screen. Moreover, the chemistry between her and Landry is one of the many elements that wins audiences over and helps them invest in the narrative.
Director: Louise Archambault
Starring: Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, Alexandre Landry and Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin
More about Gabrielle, Gabrielle MarionRivard, Alexandre Landry, Louise Archambault, Robert Charlebois
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