A Celebration of Fantastic Fest 2020: LAUGHTER

By Mark Saldana

Rating 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

This French Canadian entry is not what one might expect from Fantastic Fest, and I do sincerely mean that in the best possible way. Don’t get me completely wrong. I absolutely relish the popcorn horror flicks and entertaining, comedic thrillers and action movies, but this movie is definitely in a class of its own. The ironically-titled Laughter is a truly artistic and philosophical piece that mixes reality and surreality to express real human emotions. The film addresses life, and that means the good, the bad, the ugly–the whole lot of it. It is not only the best film I experienced at this year’s festival, I feel it is one of the best films I have seen this year.

Leane Labreche-Dor stars as Valerie, a kind-hearted caregiver in a nursing home for the elderly, who has amazingly survived an extremely traumatic, near-death experience in her past. A few years prior, civil war wreaks havoc on the citizens of Valerie’s city of Quebec. Valerie, honestly, should not be alive, but through either a miracle, or a fortunate choice made in her favor, she manages to survive what should have been her execution at the hands of rebels. Sadly, her boyfriend is not as lucky, and gets murdered along with the rest of the people rounded up.

As Valerie attempts to get on with her new life with a new lover and a satisfying, yet occasionally depressing job, she often questions why she was so lucky and why some people have amazing lives and others don’t. Her experiences at the nursing home further fuel these thoughts. In particular, she is particularly affected by a friendship with one of the residents, an ailing, but feisty older lady named Jeanne (Micheline Lanctot) who is undergoing some tumultuous soul searching of her own.

Written and directed by Martin Laroche, Laughter is a profoundly deep movie that packs an emotional and philosophical punch. Seriously, this film moved me in so many ways, and has had me thinking about it often ever since. Laroche has crafted a beautiful and haunting movie with compelling characters facing, in addition to being baffled by, the mysteries of life. His use of the surreal is, at first, confusing, but in the end I feel that all of the pieces within this whole make sense.

I was powerfully wowed by the amazing performance of Leane Labreche-Dor who portrays the main character Valerie. Labreche-Dor genuinely contributes to the emotional impact of the movie, as she perfectly exudes the approprate range of feelings demanded by this challenging role. Micheline Lanctot also gives an outstanding performance as Jeanne, a lady who has entered the final chapter of her life and often gets confused and disoriented. She offers Valerie much insight about life, happiness, sadness, pain, joy, and the seeming futility of it all.

I sincerely hope that my review doesn’t paint a depressing portrait of this wonderful film. Though the movie has its sad and heartbreaking moments, that is only part of what it offers. Martin Laroche has created an artistic reflection of the many facets of life. It is a very existential piece that should provoke deep thoughts from its audiences about our experiences, how they affect us, and the real uncertainty of our futures.

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