“Gabrielle” Meets the Challenges of Life Itself
By Skip Sheffield
Handicapped people have the same wants, needs and hopes of what we smugly call "normal people."
“Gabrielle” is a French-Canadian film starring Gabrielle Marion-Rivard as the title character. Like her character, Gabrielle has Williams Syndrome; a genetic disorder that often slows cognitive skills while increasing sociability and musical skills.
Outgoing Gabrielle, 22, attends Les Muses du Montreal, a school for differently-abled young people. Her perfect pitch and good singing voice make her a valuable member of the school choir. The star male singer is Martin (Alexandre Landy), who is handsome and high-functioning, but has an overly-protective mother (Marie Gignac). Choir director Remi (Vincent–Guillame Otis) has landed the choir a featured spot in a public concert that stars recording artist Robert Charlebois, who plays himself.
I had never heard of Robert Charlebois. He is a major star particularly among French-Canadians. The rugged-looking Charlebois is charming and self-deprecating. “I’m just an ordinary guy,” he tells the students, which is also a lyric from one of his confessional songs.
There are three simultaneous plot threads in director Louise Archambault’s screenplay. The first is the impending concert. The second is Gabrielle’s budding love affair with Martin, and its formidable obstacles. The third is Gabrielle’s quest for independence in the absence of her sister, best friend and protector, Sophie (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin). Sophie desires to travel to India to be with her boyfriend. Gabrielle’s mother (Isabelle Vincent) considers her a burden and is unwilling to care for her. Gabrielle thinks she can rent an apartment and live on her own, but she does not fully comprehend her limitations.
“Gabrielle,” which won a Canadian Screen Awards for Best Motion Picture and Best Actress, should be of special interest for those who deal with and care for the mentally challenged. It also throws out a challenge to the fully cognizant to be more compassionate and understanding of those of lesser ability. It is an inspiring achievement for the real-life disabled actors of Les Muses de Montreal and especially their star, Gabrielle Marion-Rivard.