The first work by Canadian duo Sarah Watts and Mark Slutsky, You Can Live Forever is a sensitive and generous coming-of-age film. It depicts the romantic encounter of two teenage girls living in a community in which religion reigns in the 1990s.
Set in Saguenay – but mostly in English – the film focuses on a local community of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including Jaime’s (Anwen O’Driscoll) aunt and uncle. It was after her father’s death and her mother’s depression that the young woman left Thunder Bay to live with them in Quebec.
Under the worried and moralizing gaze of her loved ones, Jaime will meet Marike (June Laporte), with whom she will develop a bond beyond friendship. The complicity between the two actresses is admirable and breathes a lot of reality into the romantic encounter. The film is punctuated by intense, powerful and intimate scenes, which are overwhelming thanks to a balanced tango between the performers.
Like (too) many films about LGBTQ youth, You Can Live Forever revolves around trauma, heartbreak and pain. The work manages to upset us, of course, but let us point out that it would be welcome to move further away from these themes to depict the life of people from sexual diversity in the cinema.
Strangely, the era in which the story takes place – the 1990s – seems to us sometimes honored, sometimes neglected. The hidden cigarettes, grunge and retro game consoles set the table well from the start of the film, but the dialogues seem to us rather anchored in 2023.
The desire not to make faith the antagonist and to present the point of view of Jehovah’s Witnesses in a fair way makes, at times, our adherence to the narrative more difficult. All the same, we depict very intelligently the consequences, sometimes harmful, of dogmatic beliefs.
Although the film is a fiction, the fact that Sarah Watts herself grew up a lesbian in a community of Jehovah’s Witnesses surely has its share of credit for this empathetic and conscientious script.
You Can Live Forever is a successful first effort that has us looking forward to what the filmmaking team has to offer in the future.