Sydney Film Festival Review: Gabrielle (Canada, 2013)


The theme of two lovers kept apart from their families or individual circumstances is hardly anything new. But Gabrielle is a film that deals with another rarely discussed subject and one that is infrequently depicted in cinemas. It is the love lives of the disabled and this film shows this with dignity and for the most part, it handles things with a deft touch.

The film’s star is Gabrielle Marion-Rivard – who like the character she is portraying – has a rare neurodevelopmental disorder called Williams Syndrome. As a result, she has learning difficulties which prevent her from living the “normal” life we all take for granted. But her redeeming features are that she has a loveable personality, a talkative and effervescent spirit and a passion for music.

Gabrielle lives in a group home which offers her the appropriate level of care and structure for her disability. She also works in an office and is a member of the choir, Les Muses de Montreal, which is led by Remi (Vincent-Guillaume Otis). All of the choir members are disabled and they have a great show to look forward to as they will be joining Quebec singer, Robert Charlebois in concert in the summer.

Through the choir, Gabrielle meets and falls in love with Martin (Alexandre Landry) (his character’s impairment is not revealed in the film). As their relationship blossoms, Martin’s harsh and over-protective mother, (Marie Gignac) tries to stop the pair from seeing one another. Gabrielle’s mother (Isabelle Vincent) is largely absent but her doting sister, Sophie (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) is supportive of the romance and Gabrielle’s determined quests for independence (even though she has limitations).

This film has a big heart and it offers a sympathetic and dignified portrait of two young people who must deal with society’s prejudices as well as their own challenges to living independently. Marion-Rivard proves a captivating lead and is engaging as she portrays some very relatable and normal human urges like: the need for autonomy, control and independence over one’s life. It means the film is sweet, nuanced and tender and it uses a lot of musical numbers to uplift and reinforce the mood at various points.

But Gabrielle is not without its fair share of pitfalls. The film is set over a few days in the lead character’s life and these episodes (working, going to choir rehearsals, being at home, etc.) have a tendency of being long, tedious and repetitive. It means the story is not as tight as it could be and this results in it lacking strength overall. Another problem is that there are times when the sound is completely silenced. This has a jarring effect on the audience and serves no obvious purpose except to make viewers as agitated and frustrated as the characters at that particular moment.

Gabrielle is an endearing family drama that is led by a courageous, determined and stubborn young woman who deserves full credit for carrying the weight of the film on her small shoulders. The story is deliberately low-key and it is raw in its depiction of the conflict and challenges that befall disabled people. It should also be commended for its choice of subject matter and the affectionate depiction of the characters. But one can’t help but feel like an opportunity has been lost along the way and stopped this film from being the stirring and poignant character study it should be.


Gabrielle makes its Australian premiere at the Sydney Film Festival. It screens on June 13, 14 and 15. Tickets and details are available at HERE.