Two questions concerning Gabrielle (2013; dir. Louise Archambault): Does the film succeed, as I think it means to, in conveying the inner life of a young women with Williams syndrome, a genetic disorder that leaves one partially incapacitated in certain cognitive and physiological ways. Does the film unethically lead its main actor, a woman afflicted with Williams syndrome, to engage before the camera in the representation of activities that she does not fully understand? The main character, played by Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, is a highly functional victim of the syndrome. She communicates well, is full of enthusiasm and affability (as are many Williams syndrome patients), but also cannot handle certain tasks—such as testing her blood sugar each day, or navigating her way through Montreal by bus. Although she wants to live on her own, she needs assistance. She receives help from her sister Sophie, and the caregivers at the center where she lives. Her parents are alive, but we never see her father, and her mother is strangely distant and unengaged. Gabrielle is a lovely young woman. The film helps us appreciate her many qualities along with the difficulties she would face in leading a normal life.
Gabrielle’s desire to live her own life becomes a significant issue for her when she falls in love with Martin, a young man who takes classes at the same center as she does. Martin is also intellectually challenged, but he seems somewhat better adjusted that Gabrielle. As the film progresses, the two of them move towards a physical relationship. Martin’s mother does not believe her 24-year-old son is ready for sex, and when she discovers Gabrielle and Martin partially unclothed together; she removes him from the school. Later the two reunite at a performance of the chorus they belong to, and they consummate their love beneath the grandstands of the concert arena. Gabrielle portrays this moment in a relatively tasteful and discreet way.
How much did Gabrielle Marion-Ricard the actor fully understand what she was doing? Could she make an informed decision about participating in the scene. Do not misunderstand: people like Gabrielle and Martin are entitled to love one another, to have sex—in real life and on film. But did the actress fully understood the role she was portraying, the scene in which she had sex with Martin?