Gabrielle is a quietly uplifting tale

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Starring Gabrielle Marion-Rivard. In French, with English subtitles. Rated 14A.

The sweetly humanistic Gabrielle looks at something seldom depicted and rarely even discussed: the romantic lives of the developmentally challenged.

The principal setting is a small community centre in which Montrealers of various ages and levels of physical and mental ability are able to enjoy partially supervised, fairly everyday lives. Their standout activity is an ad hoc choral group, led by a pro musician (Vincent-Guillaume Otis) rehearsing them for an outdoor festival in which they’ll back famed Québécois singer Robert Charlebois.

The choir’s star is lanky Martin (Alexandre Landry), who’s also the eye-apple of Gabrielle (Gabrielle Marion-Rivard), a spirited young woman with Williams syndrome, a rare disorder that leaves her just a few genes short of a full genetic deck. (First-timer Marion-Rivard was born with the disorder.)

Gabrielle doesn’t get why she and Martin can’t live together, and his mother (Marie Gignac), threatened by Martin’s increasing independence, wants to end their fraternizing completely. Gabrielle’s elegant mom (Isabelle Vincent) is more laissez-faire, having ceded responsibility to the girl’s older sister, Sophie (Incendies costar Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin). But Sophie’s currently distracted by a boyfriend getting tired of waiting for her to join him in a development project in India. That subplot doesn’t add much, except to show that people in Gabrielle’s situation can’t expect others to take care of them forever.

The sophomore effort by writer-director Louise Archambault is naturalistic to the point of occasional flatness. But the film’s real-time feel seems right for the tenderness of the subject. And when the choir finally joins in with Charlebois it feels anything but “Ordinaire”—one of several signature songs given fresh treatment in this quietly uplifting tale.

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