Writer/directors Mark Slutsky and Sarah Watts’ debut feature “You Can Live Forever” is a film filled with truth, tenderness, and an understanding of character.
Set in the early 1990s Canada, Jaime (wonderfully played by Anwen O’Driscoll) is sent to live with her Aunt Beth (Liane Balaban) and Uncle Jean-Francois (Antoine Yared) after the death of her father. The crux being that Jamie’s kin are devout Jehovah’s Witnesses and she is a lesbian.
Enter Marike (June Laporte), the daughter of a prominent elder. The two are immediately drawn to one another and their forbidden relationship causes the two women to choose between love, living their truth, or succumbing to the oppressive, male-dominated society of the Jehovah’s Witness community.
Jaime’s story is an interesting teenage character study and a microcosm of the bigoted practices of modern religion. In her story and in so many churches across the world (especially in North America) the hypocrisy of how such supposed holy communities can cause people to question their self-worth is devastating and dangerous.
Besides the honesty and care taken with Jaime and Marike’s relationship, “You Can Live Forever” gets the religious community right, doing so without resorting to cliches or melodrama.
The Witnesses are as kind to Jaime as their beliefs allow them to be. The screenplay does not want to make them into monsters. While their actions (and the way they treat their women) will make one angry, this is a a community that does everything based on their faith, sanctimonious as it may be.
It is quite interesting how the filmmakers use Marike as the conduit for the struggle between devout religious conviction and following your true “worldly” feelings.
The character is a true believer who has been raised in the faith, which Jehovah’s Witnesses call “The Truth”. Marike’s feelings become a struggle between staying true to her god while accepting her heart’s intentions.
June Laporte traverses the character’s many layers with skill and pragmatism. When Laporte and O’ Driscoll share the screen, the film is at its best.
The picture uses its Quebec area locations to good effect. Gayle Ye’s camera captures the beauty of the land, giving certain shots poignant power. The most striking image being a full shot from up high of the sun-warmed beach. Jaime and Marike walk arm in arm, silhouettes in the bright of the sun. The two are dwarfed by the beauty of nature, alone in the warm embrace and safety of the universe.
Ye’s Cinematography gives the film a beauty as pure as the love shared by the main characters.
Co-writer/director Sarah Watts was raised in a Jehovah’s Witness community and went through much of what Jamie experiences. The filmmaker is quoted as saying “I wanted to honor my own background and the experiences of other young people in a similar predicament. This is the movie I always wanted to see as a teenager.”
Indoctrination and blind faith are two of the biggest perils of certain religions. This type of close knit and close-minded sect doesn’t save souls, they break them.
To quote Mahatma Gandhi, “I like your Christ, but not your Christians.”
“You Can Live Forever” isn’t a scathing indictment of the Jehovah’s Witness communities, though it allows the mental abuse of their practices to come through naturally.
Mark Slutsky and Sarah Watts have crafted an honest and moving film that celebrates the exploration of love, sexuality, and independence.
You Can Live Forever
Written & Directed by Mark Slutsky and Sarah Watts
Starring Anwen O’Driscoll, June Laporte, Liane Balaban, Antoine Yared
NR, 96 Minutes, Prospector Films