'Gabrielle' (R)

 

An affecting look at a disabled but indefatigable young woman.

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By Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Gabrielle is 22 and impulsive. But who isn’t, at that age?

She wears her heart on her sleeve and a grin on her face. She loves her bracelets, and she loves to sing.

Gabrielle has perfect pitch, “just like my father.” And when she sings in the choir she belongs to, The Muses, she loses herself in the music.

Because Gabrielle is in love — for the first time. And that’s where things get complicated.

Gabrielle is a French-Canadian romance about love in a Quebec group home. It’s a detailed character study about someone who has been mainstreamed into Canadian society, and her discovery of love as she strains at the limits her disability puts on her life and her world.

Gabrielle (Gabrielle Marion-Rivard) is fairly independent and testy about what she thinks she can do “by myself.” She has an office job, a seemingly full social life, especially when Martin (Alexandre Landry) is around.

Her sister, Sophie (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin) wonders if Gaby is “autonomous” enough to get her own place and be responsible for her own life. Sophie, a teacher, longs to join her beau teaching at a charity school in India. Gaby insists she’ll be fine on her own. She wants her own apartment. That’s what she equates with having a full life, and love.

And she cannot wait for her choir’s big show, in which they’ll join legendary Quebec pop singer Robert Charlebois on stage for one of his quirky love songs at a festival.

Marion-Rivard was born with Williams syndrome, a developmental disability characterized by an “elfin” appearance and a cheerful demeanor, as well as learning disabilities. It might have helped the film to have someone come out and explain that, at least about her character.

The people who supervise her and Martin and several others in their group home are frank about matters of sexuality and treat the curiosity she and Martin share as no bigger deal than the resident who has seizures or the one who doesn’t understand privacy. There are rules about that sort of thing, but “l’amour” is “l’amour,” they suggest.

Martin’s mother isn’t convinced. And with Sophie determined to give Gaby a chance to prove she can live on her own and Martin’s mom determined to keep the couple apart, we’re treated to some nervous moments as Gaby, who also is diabetic, stumbles head-on into her limitations.

Marion-Rivard has won honors in Canada for her performance, which is natural and unaffected. It’s not a “stunt” turn any more than Marlee Matlin’s Oscar-winning performance in Children of a Lesser God. She is an engaging personality, even if you can’t tell where the performance begins or ends.

But director Louise Archambault’s custom-built film for Gabrielle breaks no new ground in its depiction of people with disabilities. The singing is nice, the peripheral characters interesting. But a love that others don’t approve of, that may get in the way of a big concert debut? That makes Gabrielle, in French with English subtitles, a bit too “Lifetime Original Movie” for its own good.

Cast: Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, Alexandre Landry, Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin

Writer-director: Louise Archambault.

An eOne release. Running time: 1:43. In French with English subtitles. Sexual situations. In Miami-Dade only: Coral Gables Art Cinema.

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