The most personal stories are often the most profound. And the stories told by lesbian and gay filmmakers, frequently centred as they are on coming to terms with burgeoning sexuality, can speak to a queer audience with power and clarity.

Films like Edge Of Seventeen, All Over Me, Beautiful Thing and The Incredibly True Adventures Of Two Girls In Love resonate with queer viewers based on the shared emotional experience of coming out (a cute girl or boy in the lead doesn't hurt either).

Such is the case with Emporte-moi (Set Me Free), the new feature written and directed by Quebec filmmaker Léa Pool. Known for her highly personal films (1986's Anne Trister was a favourite on the gay and lesbian festival circuit), Pool looks to her own past again to tell the story of Hanna, a 13-year-old girl living with her family in Montreal in 1963.

According to Pool, Emporte-moi is very autobiographical. "I was a little bit afraid to make this project because it's about my family," she says. "It was not an easy story." The film follows a year in Hanna's life as she begins a tentative romance with her friend Laura, while negotiating the tempestuous relationship between her volatile father, a failed poet, and her physically drained and emotionally absent mother.

As life at home becomes increasingly strained, Hanna escapes reality via repeated viewings of Jean-Luc Godard's film Vivre sa vie, where she relates to the luminous Anna Karina as the film's free-spirited but tragic heroine. Hanna also develops a crush on her female teacher, a relationship that, to Hanna, promises both the excitement of first love and the nurturing that her mother cannot provide.

The estrangement between Hanna and her mother is particularly moving and is a subject rarely examined in lesbian films, despite its familiarity to many women who come out to their families. After touching on this topic in earlier work, Pool claims it was the adoption of her daughter in 1996 that gave her the courage to tackle it again.

Emporte-moi is rich in moments of telling detail - the monthly pawning of furniture to pay the rent, avoiding awkward boys to hold hands with a girl at a party - and Pool draws from her past with unflinching honesty.

One of the films' major assets is its cast. Pool elicits a performance of astounding gravity and depth from Karine Vanasse as Hanna, and subtle, understated work by Pascale Bussières as her overburdened mother. Miki Manojlovic's performance, however, as Hanna's displaced Jewish father, borders on strident when seen against the refined acting surrounding him.

A sublime coming-of-age drama and a tribute to the transformative power of cinema, Emporte-moi is ample evidence of a director working at the top of her form, in sure command of the emotional nuances of her story and unafraid to examine her history.

By delving into her own past, Pool has created a personal film with universal appeal.

Emporte-moi opens Fri, Oct 8 at the Cumberland (159 Cumberland Ave).
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