Gabrielle is one of those little gems that makes attending TIFF such a treat. Truth be told, this film almost slipped under my radar. Thankfully I had an open slot to fill and decided to blindly pick whatever Canadian film was available. Prove once again that sometimes the greatest pleasures at TIFF are not in the high profile films, but discovering the hidden gems.
Gabrielle (Gabrielle Marion-Rivard) is a musically gifted young woman who has Williams Syndrome. Living in a group home, Gabrielle splits her time between her office job shredding papers and singing in a choir for adults with developmental disabilities. It is in the choir where she falls for Martin (Alexandre Landry), a man who is developmentally challenged and lives with his mother. When Gabrielle and Martin begin to crave physical intimacy; their loved ones become concerned with the possible ramifications. Desiring to live and love like “normal” people, Gabrielle is determined to prove her independence.
Louise Archambault’s film is one of those charming coming-of-age tales that respects the sensibilities of both its characters and the audience. At no point does it feel as if Archambault is using Gabrielle’s disability as a ploy to evoke sympathy. Instead she makes Gabrielle a well-rounded character whose aspirations are very relatable. The film does a wonderful job of showing that individuals with disabilities are like everyone else and also have normal human urges. Society tends to focus so much on the disability, that it is easy to forget that a person is more than their diagnosis.
The film takes a mature and respectful approach to its characters. This is especially noticeable in the stunning and heartfelt performances Archambault draws from her cast. At times it is tough to tell whether the two leads actually have disabilities or if they are just acting. For the record, Marion-Rivard does indeed have Williams syndrome and Landy is merely acting. However, it really does not matter as it is hard not to get swept up in their love story. Marion-Rivard is exceptionally good in her acting debut. She has genuine chemistry with Landry that radiates off the screen.
Gabrielle is a sweet and delightful film in every way imaginable. The film will bring a smile to your face while providing honest food for thought. It does not take the easy, or formulaic, approach to tackling the topics love and disabilities. Instead it presents its themes in a sincere and engaging way. Gabrielle is one of the year’s hidden gems.