I have to be honest from the outset: I have absolutely no idea what is going on in “Laughter,” a film from writer / director Martin Laroche. This abstract, unusual movie features deeply insightful writing and dialogue, but the intentionally obtuse, hard-to-connect dots make it much more frustrating than entertaining. I adored so much about the film, just don’t ask me to offer a concrete explanation.

As a civil war rips Canada apart, Valérie (Léane Labrèche-Dor) is the lone survivor of a mass execution by firing squad. By some small miracle the bullet meant for the back of her head misses, and she is forced to play dead while she is buried alive among hundreds of corpses (her boyfriend is not so lucky). Fast forward eight years and Valérie has resumed some sense of normalcy. She now has a new significant other and works at a nursing home as a caregiver. Valérie has become close with resident Jeanne (Micheline Lanctôt), an elderly woman with a sharp wit and intellect, and the two find much common ground.

There are many other characters who appear throughout the story, and all are connected by the film’s end. I’m still not sure if these are real people, manifestations of Valérie’s imagination, multiple personalities, nightmarish dreams, or visions of her internal psyche. The woman obviously still struggles with survivor’s guilt and overwhelming grief, but her life seems normal on the outside. It’s both brilliant and maddening, in good measure.

I suppose you could interpret “Laughter” thousands of different ways, and its tone is evenly split between things that are authentic and those that are surreal. It’s a thoughtful, sophisticated, abstract meditation on life and death, and it remains interesting because of the lead performance, first-rate writing, and artful direction.

By: Louisa Moore

This film was screened at Fantastic Fest 2020

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