Xavier Dolan faces a seemingly insurmountable challenge from the outset of his new picture, Laurence Anyways: how to make a film about the difficulty of transitioning in a transgender life without making that subject seem reductive or abstract? One of the cinema’s ongoing problems of representation, among many others, is the near-total absence of transgender characters and stories, which makes Dolan’s film both deeply refreshing and important. But what’s remarkable about Laurence Anyways is that the lived experience it conveys—the struggle of Laurence (Melvil Poupaud), born a man, to reconcile the need to reject her birth-assigned sex and become a woman with her enduring affection for former girlfriend Fred (Suzanne Clément), who finds it hard to accept the change—isn’t presented as novelty. Dolan, perhaps less out of shrewdness than genuine empathy, stages Laurence’s transition and its attendant hardships as basically unexceptional, emphasizing character over circumstance and encouraging us to embrace the people rather than the “issue” they might emblematize. Laurence Anyways, in other words, is a film about a transgender woman, but it would not be fair to describe it as a film “about” transgender issues. What it represents is crucially specific, but the pain it articulates is universal: The film expresses, with much style and sophistication (if, at nearly three hours, perhaps an overabundance of both), the personal tragedy of love torn apart, of watching helplessly as your life crashes hard into another’s but fails to stick. Dolan is only 24 years old, but he has a sensitivity to heartbreak beyond his years. You have to wonder where he finds so much hurt.