Gabrielle (Gabrielle Marion-Rivard) is a musically-gifted young woman that suffers from an intellectual disability called Williams syndrome. At her choir group, she meets and falls in love with Martin and soon become inseperable, but Gabrielle's family are concerned about whether their daughter can handle a sexual relationship.
Gabrielle (Gabrielle Marion-Rivard) is a vibrant, sociable and musically gifted 22-year-old. She lights up a room with a smile that splits her face, and when she sings it’s with her whole heart, in perfect pitch. Gabrielle (both actress and character) has Williams syndrome, a genetic condition characterised by elfin appearance and lack of inhibition, as well as intellectual and developmental delay. But Gabrielle is thriving in a supported household in Montreal, where she has a simple office job and a loving sister, Sophie (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin), who keeps in close contact. It’s when she sings, however, that Gabrielle is most alive, and she’s a star performer in Les Muses de Montreal, a choir of developmentally challenged singers.
The choir is preparing for a high profile performance in a music festival, accompanying famous Québécois singer-songwriter Robert Charlebois, in his hit song ‘Ordinary Guy’. It’s during choir practice that Gabrielle meets a fellow choir member, Martin (professional actor, Alexandre Landry). They fall madly (and very cutely) in love and want to be together, in every way. But their emotional and sexual desires are met with concern by those around them, particularly by Martin’s protective mother (Marie Gignac). “It’s not the same for people like them,” she says, which is both true and not true, because this film successfully shows how desires for love, intimacy and personal growth are universal and essentially human.
Written and directed by Louise Archambault (Familia, 2005) and made in close collaboration with the lead actress and the real life choir Les Muses Chorale, Gabrielle is a sensitive, funny and often very moving love story. The characters are beautifully lit and shot (with cinematography by Mathieu Laverdière) and the lyrics of the songs they sing reflect humorously and poignantly on their situations.
The narrative deftly incorporates both its (quote-unquote) ‘normal’ and additional needs characters. The world it creates is a generally benevolent one: people are loved, properly cared for and well-integrated into community life. Sympathetic carers and choir masters (wonderfully played by Benoit Gouin and Vincent-Guillaume Otis) are models of good humoured but never-condescending support. The fact that the special-needs lovers have all their practical needs met means the focus can reside firmly on the desires and longings of their hearts – for love and independence. A subplot involving Gabrielle’s sister and her conflicted desire to join her partner (Sébastien Ricard) overseas broadens the world of the film, mirroring the other romance.
Scenes in which Gabrielle struggles to prove she can live independently are genuinely tense and disturbing. She loses her way on the bus, nearly gets run over, forgets to inject her insulin and panics when the toaster sets off a fire alarm. The question of how much she has to accept her limitations while still getting what she wants is gently but not quite satisfactorily resolved. It’s as if the film knew how to set up its problem, but not quite how to solve it. Nevertheless, Gabrielle is a joy to watch – and to listen to. She’s a true star.