Gabrielle's song

Gabrielle Marion-Rivard

Canada's official entry for the Oscar for Best Film in a Foreign Language, writes Fr Peter Malone MSC.

Gabrielle is a vivacious young woman. We initially seeing her and a choir – but there is something different about the choir, some of the members have Down Syndrome, and others have difficulty in attentiveness. The choirmaster, a dedicated young man, has difficulties in co-ordinating their efforts.

This is a choir that belongs to a residence for mentally-impaired adults. And Gabrielle is one of these. It is intriguing to discover that the actress portraying Gabrielle, Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, herself has mental difficulties.

The film offers an opportunity for the group at the centre and in the choir to be affirmed in performance, in their characters and in interactions during the film. It is also an opportunity for Gabrielle Marion-Rivard to give a striking performance, credible, sympathetic, at times exasperating, and a chance for audiences to look and listen as well as appreciate and understand.

Gabrielle is 22, has a busy mother who is involved with a Symphony Orchestra but is cared for by her older sister, Sophie, a kind and understanding woman who nevertheless has a life of her own, especially with a partner who is working in India with a children's choir – and whom we see via their Skype communications. Gabrielle is not able to manage by herself but feels a great need for some kind of independence, a chance to have a place of her own so that she can be herself and cope.

A significant part of the film involves this quest by Gabrielle, staying with her sister, looking out the window at people getting into the bus, coming downstairs and imitating them, trying to find her way to a pet shop where Martin, with whom she has fallen in love, works part-time. But he is not there and in her attempts to get home becomes quite bewildered and lost. It is particularly dangerous for Gabrielle because she is diabetic.

The other major theme of the film is about relationships, love, and possibilities of sexuality and partnerships for those at the centre. Martin is a pleasant young man, a soloist in the choir, attracted to Gabrielle. They are caught several times together and Martin's mother is very upset and withdraws Martin from the centre. This has repercussions for the choir rehearsals because the group is training to perform publicly during a music festival in Montréal.

The film is matter-of-fact about the sexuality issues, the members on the staff of the centre being very direct in language and questions of Gabrielle and Martin. As it raises questions for Martin's mother, it also raises questions for the audience, the nature of the relationship, the possibilities for the future, issues of pregnancy and parenthood. But the film does not want to solve these problems, rather, it shows a temporary encounter and leaves the rest to the audience as the concert is in progress and both Gabrielle and Martin happily sing.

- Review by Fr Peter Malone MSC, an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

Gabriielle, starring Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, Alexandre Landry, Melissa Desormeaux -Poulin. Directed by Louise Archimbault. Rated M (Sex scene and sexual references). 103 minutes.

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