Canada's official Best Foreign Language Oscar entry

On the surface, it’s a simple love story: girl meets boy, girl likes boy, girl kisses boy. But Louise Archambault’s Gabrielle is much more. The Quebec director’s second feature is a deeply affecting tale of difference, dignity and the healing power of song.

Gabrielle, 22, is developmentally challenged, and lives in a centre for others like herself. She is played with great spirit by Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, who shares more than just a first name with her screen persona; Marion-Rivard has Williams syndrome, a rare neurodevelopmental disorder.

All is well in Gabrielle’s world. She sings in a choir, and she has a special friendship with fellow singer Martin. It’s all very innocent, until one day Martin’s mother comes to visit and the two are discovered semi-clothed in Martin’s bedroom. Sexual relationships are not allowed between residents at the centre. More importantly, Martin’s mom is very protective of her son; not only does she pull him out of the centre, she forbids him from seeing or talking to Gabrielle.

Archambault brings us right into Gabrielle and Martin’s world, using hand-held camera, shallow depth of field and lots of close-ups — all contributing to a sense of living in the moment and seeing only what’s right in front of you, with an emphasis on physical details.

Gabrielle’s main support system is her sister, Sophie, who lives an otherwise carefree adult existence. Sophie would like to go join her boyfriend in India; but she worries about how her sibling will fare without her.

The choir is Gabrielle’s sanctuary, where she and her peers are momentarily liberated from their conditions.The music allows us to better feel the chorists’s humanity, providing a level of empathy that would not have been possible otherwise.

On a normal day, most of us don’t have much opportunity for interaction with people in Gabrielle’s condition. Archambault’s movie takes us inside, makes us root for her protagonist and provides a disarmingly cathartic payoff.
- T'Cha Dunlevy, Montreal Gazette


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