Laughter (La Rire) is a Canadian drama that is hard to describe. The premise is straight forward. Valerie is the sole survivor of a brutal military attack. She has managed to move on with her life, but cannot fully escape what happened that day. She seems to have adjusted to her new life, but a new neighbor has her revisiting painful memories.
The story is exposition heavy. Laughter is about a woman handling survivor guilt. Her way of dealing with the incident is by talking with the people in her life. This is a very risky decision by director Martin Laroche. Conversation laden movies are a turn off to some people already. And the subject matter in Laughter can be disturbing and just plain confusing.
The reason it works in Laughter are the great performances. Leane Labreche-Dor is fantastic as Valerie. She gives Valerie a strength and confidence that will make some mistakenly believe (including possibly herself) that she has moved forward completely.
The truth is, she is just managing to get by. She has a pair of powerful conversations brought on by the arrival of a new neighbor. There is also a great monologue towards the end that summarizes what she is dealing with. These are the most memorable parts of Laughter.
Micheline Lanctot is also wonderful as Jeanne. She is a patient at the nursing home Valerie now works at. The two have fabulous chemistry. They are able to get away from their everyday lives when they talk to each other. Their friendship is an interesting part of Laughter. An argument can be made that it can be explored further. At the same time, the moments they have together, are enough to get across their important to each other’s lives.
The story can get very confusing. The civil war that is such an essential part of the story is only brought up when convenient. This makes Sense in Valerie’s case and she even mentions she does not like bringing it up. However, it is surprising no one else mentions the civil. There are also does not seem to be any visible signs of the conflict.
There are also many subplots in Laughter. They seem to take on a metaphorical quality and are difficult to understand. For example, there is a story involving Jean that is introduced early before being revisited at the end. It is obviously important, but it is hard to say why.
This brings everything back to the film’s title. There are a lot of obstacles for the characters of Laughter to overcome. A recurring theme of the film is the self-defense mechanism used by everyone. They try to make a jokes to cope with their sadness. It is not a matter of downplaying the moment or not taking things seriously. It comes down to a choice. A person ultimately has two options in life. They can either laugh or they can cry. The real joke is it usually means the same thing.