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THE BLACK SHEEP INTERVIEW: LOUISE ARCHAMBAULT (GABRIELLE)

9200000022069482PLEASE BE GENTLE.

An interview with Gabrielle director Louise Archambault

With my hands trembling and my heart racing, I sat down for my first interview as a film writer with GABRIELLE director, Louise Archambault. Being a polite Canadian and tongue-tied, (a disastrous combination during interviews), I immediately apologized for my nerves, but Archambault sweetly calmed me with her down to earth, delicate demeanour.  “You can relax, I’ll be as nervous as you,” she said, thoughtfully. In fact, it suddenly struck me that this was the same intoxicating gentleness and heartfelt acceptance that permeates through every frame of GABRIELLE, a film about a woman with Williams syndrome who has an exuberant spirit and great musical talent. She was so incredibly kindhearted and mindful of my discomfort, and, in much the same way, it was this sharp observance of minute human behavior that sparked her writing of the film. “There was a woman I used to see in my neighbourhood, more mentally challenged than the actors in the film. We used to swim at the same public swimming pool. She had such a strong personality and I saw people around always uneasy with her. And when she was in the water with floaters she would just float and sing. I saw the joy in her but people were annoyed by it. That was the starting point I guess.”

This joy for life and music, I noted, is evident in lead actress, Gabrielle Marion-Rivard’s performance and in every lyrical note, (diegetic and non-diegetic), of the film. Her performance is a master class in realism, and yet there were many struggles with getting to that point. “I saw her in dancing and theatre classes and she’s a great singer and I needed that, but she’s not an actress. It took a year, while we were waiting for funding, I did some workshops with her. I did look for someone else because she was not the best actress. She was over-expressive and it didn’t work for cinema. I decided at some point that she had the light and charisma and photogenic look, so I said I’ll adapt and find a way. She had that authenticity that I love for her character.”

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Gabrielle’s chemistry with romantic lead, Alexandre Landry (who has received critical accolades since the film’s release), is also palpable, and is one of the tender highlights of the film. “Alexandre came into the audition with his huge heart, and he’s like that in life, always courteous of others. And the intimacy and love between them passed through right away.”

Other than the fiery chemistry between the two actors, what stayed with me long after I saw the film was its unique music and songs, which the characters sing as part of their choir practices throughout the film. “I was looking for a band or artist in French and I tried other songs but when I was in the organization that’s now in the film, I observed Anthony, the actor with Asperger’s, and he started to sing ‘Ordinaire’ by Robert Charlebois. He sings, ‘I’m just an ordinary guy’ and it was a song I knew forever, and the lyrics took a new meaning. Him, being very antisocial and cold with his syndrome, but all of his emotions and connectivity came through when he sings, especially with those lyrics. And, I thought, yeah, you’re just an ordinary guy, but I’m just an ordinary girl. That was the starting point with the extraordinary music in the film.” Although I was unfamiliar with the Charlebois’ legendary music, the choir’s haunting adaptation of his most notable songs in the film resonated with me tremendously.

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Before I knew it my time with Archambault had come to a close but, like the film’s tone and energy, her joie de vivre and heartfelt kindness will stay with me for a long time.

GABRIELLE was Canada’s Academy Awards submission this year. It is now playing in select Canadian cities and will expand throughout Canada in the coming months.

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