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Published June 4, 2014

One of the gifts of cinema is that it can expose us so fully, even if for the briefest of moments, to worlds we are never exposed to in day-to-day life. With the French-Canadian film Gabrielle, director Louise Archambault manages so successfully to open the doorway for the audience into the life of twenty-two year old Gabrielle (Gabrielle Marion-Rivard), a young woman living with Williams syndrome  – a neurological condition which is associated with cardiovascular disease, learning difficulties, highly sociable personalities and an affinity for music.

Centring around Gabrielle, the film follows the rehearsals of a choir made up of intellectually disabled individuals, Les Muses de Montreal, as they prepare for an upcoming performance at a festival with Canadian celebrity singer, Robert Charlebois.

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Gabrielle is intellectually disabled, she is diabetic, and she lives in a house with other intellectually disabled adults supervised by carers. However, she is for the most part able to look after herself. She has a job and she attends activities at the local leisure centre where she is part of the choir. It is here she meets twenty-five year old Martin (Alexandre Landry), and the two fall in love.

But love between two people whom are both intellectually disabled is not something that their guardians are comfortable with, and this is where the film begins to challenge us. 

In a heated discussion between Gabrielle’s carer, her sister Sophie (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin), and Martin’s overprotective mother as to the supervision of the Gabrielle and Martin spending time alone in Gabby’s room, it is Sophie, also struggling with her relationship who gets to the point; “Tout le monde a la droit a l’amour” (or “Everyone has the right to be loved”). 

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Understanding that her disability is keeping her and Martin apart, Gabrielle pushes for her independence, fighting the toughest of battles with her sister her mother and herself for love. The chemistry between Gabrielle and Martin is heart warming and Archambault’s use of the close-up strengthens their beautiful connection and makes understanding Gabrielle’s life and the prejudices she must face all the more confronting. 

The photogenic and beautiful spirit of Gabrielle Marion-Rivard really leaks through the screen and her fight for independence is such a battle that you cannot help but feel exposed to an issue that most of us shy away from or dismiss in life. The film is extraordinarily honest, and does a great job of simply telling a story rather than directly asking for sympathy towards those with disabilities. It does not seek to be overly dramatic or emotional, and thus it succeeds in both being challenging and open in one of the most non-judgemental ways.

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Gabrielle screens exclusively at Cinema Nova in Carlton from June 19.