Xavier Dolan’s Speedy Success
In 2009, when we first heard of this young filmmaker making waves at Cannes for J’ai tué ma mère, I must admit I was pretty skeptical, albeit jealous, of his acclaim. Somewhere, I though it wasn’t fair for such a young and unknown filmmaker to gain such recognition, let alone get into the festival at all!
Well, I have seen both of his films now and have surrendered to the Dolan charm!
First a little background… Xavier Dolan started his career as a child actor in Quebec films and in TV series. Disinterested in school at age 17, he wrote a script based on a novella he had written, cashed in his acting savings and financed the production of the resulting film. In 2009, his film J’ai tué ma mère premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and won him three awards from the Director’s Fortnight program. Last year, his film Les Amours imaginaires, another privately funded work, screened at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival and was received with a standing ovation and subsequently won top prize at the Sydney Film Festival. He is already working on his third film, Laurence Anyways, set to begin shooting this fall. Xavier Dolan is 21 years old!
Before seeing J’ai tué ma mère, I was told by many that it was difficult to like because of the back-to-back unforgiving screaming sequences between Hubert Minel and his mother Chantale, played by Anne Dorval. Some even said the dialogue was whiny and annoying. Based on the director’s own relationship with his mother, this film tells the story of a Hubert Minel, a gay youth, who loves his mother deeply, but cannot stand her tacky, retro narrow-mindedness. Hubert is no cup of tea either, repeatedly bursting into fits of outrage, tears, and below-the-belt insults. I loved every bit of this film. From the gut wrenching, uncomfortably intimate scenes with his mother, to the exquisitely contrasting, polished slow motion scenes with his lover, this film blew me away. It’s honest. Dolan exposes his thoughts and emotions in such a visceral way, that it’s hard not to relate to either of the characters. In other words, J’ai tué ma mère is Dolan’s cathartic experience towards maturity and I feel somewhat privileged to have watched it unfold.
I was very excited to see Dolan’s second film Les Amours imaginaires after reading it had received a standing ovation at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival. Again? I asked… The story is about two friends, a guy and a girl, that fall in love with the same guy and battle it out for his affection. Not the most inventive plot, but the theme is nonetheless one we can all relate with. In tone, the film is more playful and comical than the first. As you watch both friends go to desperate lengths to win over this one guy, you feel the need to laugh, but more so out of unease and awkwardness. You definitely find yourself asking whether you’ve ever been so pathetic. As in his first film, Dolan experiments with slow-motion sequences. Paired with classical music, these moments are worm holes straight to Dolan’s heart. They are sincere, poetic and beautiful – they are powerful.
Often as a director, you question whether you have a distinctive style or whether you have anything interesting to say. Dolan’s style is strong and his message rings true. Exploring universal themes of love, hate, and jealousy, he manages to explore emotions in all their ugliness, beauty, and stupidity. I felt like I had discovered the first film d’auteur that I identify with to come out of Québec in a while. Even more refreshing is that it’s told from a young perspective, one that has been lacking in Québecois films. Xavier Dolan is inspiring. A more than credible actor, mature writer, skilled director and editor, Dolan has everything he needs to create his niche in the Québec and international film scene. May I be so bold as to suggest that Xavier Dolan may become Québec’s own Woody Allen?