Written and Directed by Mark Slutsky and Sarah Watts | 96 min | ▲▲▲△△| Carbon Arc Cinema
It’s the early ’90s — only 30 years ago but a very different time for gay rights in Canada. Following the death of her father, an Ontario teen, Jamie (Anwen O’Driscoll) has been sent to live with her aunt and uncle, Beth and Jean-Francois (Lianne Balaban and Antoine Yared), in Saguenay, Quebec. Jamie isn’t a religious girl, but her aunt and uncle are part of the local Jehovah’s Witness community.
Through them, Jamie meets a girl her age, Marike (June Laporte), who is a true believer. Jamie starts school and makes friends, including a secular boy, Nathan (Hasani Freeman), but Jamie is spending more and more time with Marike, and before long their friendship changes into something else. But what does their love this mean for them both, given the restriction imposed upon them inside a faith that believes the end of the world is predestined and soon to arrive?
What’s special about You Can Live Forever is how while it frames this burgeoning queer passion at a formative time of life against the backdrop of religious fundamentalism, it remains non-judgmental of the religion itself. It’s honest about the rules of the community, but at no time are the adults who live by those rules demonized. It’s a fact of life that Marika has grown up with, but her connection with Jamie forces her to reassess what it is she wants and whether it’s a possibility within her world.
And what a world it is — the filmmakers do a terrific job setting it in a recognizable era, a pre-internet, pre-cellphone time that seems so quaint it may as well be 1892. We also get a delicacy in the storytelling that’s aided entirely by the commitment of the young performers in their roles. This isn’t what I’d call a passionate film — it’s more about sublimation and restraint — but the sincerity between O’Driscoll and Laporte is there in every shot.