Canada’s official submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2014 Academy Awards, and produced by the team behind the Oscar nominated Incendies and Monsieur Lazhar, Louise Archambault’s Gabrielle is a stunning, tender film about a developmentally challenged young woman’s quest for independence and sexual freedom. Living in a group home, musically talented Gabrielle (Gabrielle Marion-Rivard) has found love in Martin (Alexandre Landry), a fellow member of her choir. They want to explore their feelings for one another physically, but are not allowed. Convinced that living alone will allow her to have the intimate relationship she so desperately craves, Gabrielle tries valiantly to prove she can be independent.

As she did with Familia—which won Best Canadian First Feature at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival—Archambault displays her keen ability to distill the emotional currents of families at a crossroads. Gabrielle’s rock is her sister Sophie (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin; Incendies), who tries to help her but knows that full independence will never be possible. Meanwhile, Sophie is facing her own life-altering decision. Unlike the troubled relationship the women have with their mother, Sophie and Gabrielle find immeasurable strength and inspiration in each other.

At the core of this film is the heartfelt performance by Marion-Rivard (who has Williams syndrome in real life). Gabrielle’s effusive giddiness is contagious, her drive unrelenting. As the choir works towards its big performance with Quebec music legend Robert Charlebois, this turbulent, moving journey is furthered by Mathieu Laverdière’s ethereal cinematography. Gabrielle is a captivating film about tolerance and finding happiness, but, above all, it is a story of love.

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