“Give all to love,” the poet Emerson wrote, encouraging everyone to love fully until, for whatever reason, love disappears. But even he would be awed by the determined and lovestruck Gabrielle.
At 22 Gabrielle (Gabrielle Marion-Rivard) isn’t considered capable of taking care of herself, and feels hindered by the sometimes well-meaning individuals who stand between her and romance. But she is determined to explore her womanhood, and in her self-titled film, Gabrielle (2013), currently screening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, we are permitted to observe the victories and challenges of this caring young woman whose intellectual disability is the least of her concerns.
Gabrielle sings in a choir with her friend Martin (Alexandre Landry) and others with disabilities, who call themselves: The Muses of Montreal. And under the guidance of choir master, Remi (Vincent-Guillaume Otis), they are preparing for an upcoming performance with Quebecois musician, and Order of Canada recipient, Robert Charlebois at the Laval Choir Festival. This means rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal — all of which is going well enough until love starts to demand all.
Worried about what a romance between Martin and Gabrielle could mean, Martin’s mother (Marie Gignac) endeavors to keep them apart. This is hard on Gabrielle, but convinced her rationale is sound, she dares to prove herself capable of navigating this adult chapter of her life. And in the process, Gabrielle’s family, particularly her older sister, Sophie (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin), must also wrestle with how best to guide and support her; So, too, must the caregiver at the group home where Gabrielle lives.
Eventually the question of sterilization is raised, and though it rankles it gets to the heart of the matter: Gabrielle is exploring her sexuality. Can she bear children? Should anyone prevent her? And does she thoroughly understand what parenthood involves? Maybe she’s heard that playground song that recounts that soon after love comes a baby carriage; most of us have, but what does parenting look like for someone with her challenges?
French-Canadian director Louise Archambault, who also wrote the script, offers a realistic portrayal of Gabrielle’s situation. And in achieving this, she commendably uses silence to make us hyper-conscious of the young woman’s plight, the result being that for a moment we feel we have slipped into her body and experience her emotions as she does; yet at the same time, Archambault’s technique keeps the possibility of Gabrielle’s swift derailment top of mind.
The film progresses too slowly at times due to Archambault’s commitment to detail and backstory, but to answer the above questions, we remain trained on Gabrielle throughout.
What becomes striking in retrospect is the fact that so many of us bumble through love, and life in general, without any thought to, or rules governing our ability to manage the associated challenges.