297 Great Directors: Xavier Dolan

“Cinema is a thankless industry where sometimes to appear on the cinematic scenery is a thing for late bloomers and people who are very patient. The places are accounted, and the space is often unwelcoming. Money is rare, and independent voices are muted by the almost complete absence of risk takers.”


Why This Director?
: The Black Island sequence in Laurence Anyways was enough.

My Last Experience Was…: Laurence Anyways.

What Did I Watch: Everything unseen (I Killed My Mother, Heartbeats, Mommy, Tom at the Farm).

Where Does He Fit: Favorite detail in I Killed My Mother is Anne Dorval not realizing her son is gay even though he has a gigantic poster of River Phoenix on the wall above his bed. (Good taste, I hasten to add.) The rest of the production is low budgeted in that way where you can just instinctively tell, but still, it is very odd to see Suzanne Clement and Anne Dorval here as the mother and the teacher to Dolan himself when they essentially did the same thing in Mommy. A spiritual prequel of sorts? Very likely. Most astonishing is how quickly he got a hold of his aesthetic even with no money, that one scene from The 400 Blows extended to full length with a bit of cinephilia thrown in (both good and bad).

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Heartbeats, meanwhile, seems to be cultivating a Wong aesthetic for a while, but the object of all the romantic glances is a man, and the framing device of people’s weird random conversations has no payoff this time like in I Killed My Mother with the black and white. The Pass This On sequence, a small masterpiece in its own right, is when it became clear: the whole film is play acting, children pretending they’re old enough to have glamorous love affairs with some beautiful Greek statue man even when it’s all teenage romance. Sophomore slump kicks Dolan in the shins, for sure, but not too hard.

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None of the performances in Heartbeats really registered since it was all just a bunch of generic white people problems rendered pretty and sad (in a good way, mind you). Cannot say the same for Tom at the Farm (address number is 69, wonder how intentional that was), which not only shows the signs of an honest to goodness budget, but has Lise Roy as a grieving mother who is probably going through the anger stage. Xavier himself is once again the lead after some time off for Laurence Anyways, sporting a new hairdo that makes him vaguely resemble his past crushes, but while the subject matter (gay men’s fear of rural areas) is a worthy one, the duration and pacing feel off. Why so much time looking for how to get into the building? Half an hour to get the rules of the game started? It came out before Mommy, but based on the reception at Cannes to It’s Only the End of the World, I wonder if the 2015 release was secretly an asset in terms of making this feel a little like the beginning of the end.

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Mommy is the sequel to I Killed My Mother and Laurence Anyways…and fittingly, it’s in some ways a lot less mature than the debut that is IKMM thanks to Antoine-Olivier Pilon giving a performance that is somehow even louder, and stuck in a more cramped space thanks to the 1:1 aspect ratio that breaks wide open in the most thrilling moment. Electric stuff, and the insane stylings of Laurence Anyways’ mad gay Canada get recycled here, refined from the dark days of Tom at the Farm. Sure, there is some future child laws bunk designed purely to have a climax that makes sense, but who gives a shit? So many little details, from Dorval’s Die using a keychain pencil with a ton of metal to sign an expulsion contract, to yet another pasta meal this time being used as smarminess, to the lipstick handkerchief. Everything is an indulgence, but it’s unbridled fun.

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Most Valuable Asset
: Intelligent pop music rendered in images.
Most Excited For: Well, all that’s left is the yet to be released It’s Only the End of the World, and I’m…not looking forward to that.

Coming Up Next: Haile Gerima, recently rediscovered a bit.

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