In a celebration of the young Quebocois auteur, whose fifth film Mommy arrives in cinemas this week, we take a look at Xavier Dolan’s intriguing back catalogue, all of which are available from the Cinema For All Booking Scheme.
Dolan, who turns 26 this week, is already at work on his sixth feature, continuing an extraordinarily prolific streak of work in the last few years. Dolan rarely solely directs his films, often starring in, producing, writing, editing and even designing the costumes. Dolan’s films are transgressive, unique and bold works of cinema that offer much for the film society audience to discover.
Dolan’s debut (which premiered to an 8 minute standing ovation at Cannes Film Festival) centres on a mother-son relationship – though of a very different sort than that in Mommy. Made when Dolan was just 19, I Killed My Mother is partly autobiographical and explores the deteriorating relationship between Hubert and his mother Chantale. Dolan has said he felt the need to make the film before he was 20 to keep alive the adolescent angst that inspired the film. Hubert is 16 – a young gay man on the cusp of breaking away from his mother, though doing so remains a painful experience. The film is suffused with the miseries of teenage angst – Hubert makes a confessional series of video diaries about his withering relationship, the self-indulgent, self-important nature of them captures the preciousness of youth. Dolan’s closeness to the film’s subject gives the film a raw and honest validity.
Dolan is unafraid to wear his influences on his sleeve. Heartbeats owes more than a little to the Nouvelle Vague, as well as the romances of Wong Kar Wai.
Heartbeats presents an unconsummated love triangle: best friends Francis (Dolan) and Marie both fall for the same man, Nicolas, whom they meet at a party. Nicolas becomes friends with them both and over the course of a summer Francis and Marie vie for the affections of Nicolas until things reach a head on a holiday to Nicolas’s family’s estate. Nicolas himself is either oblivious to the effects he is having, or enjoys it, and by giving in to neither of their advances, or even by making his sexual orientation clear, he allows the battle to continue.
Heartbeats is a stylised update of Jules et Jim complete with surreal fantasy secrets and a bag of cinematic tricks that show Dolan experimenting with filmmaking in a new way.
Set over ten years this is an exploration of love on a grand scale. Laurence Anyways starts with Laurence telling Frederique, Laurence’s girlfriend of many years, that he wants to transition from a man to a woman. Frederique’s initial reaction is of sadness and she does not believe she can still love Laurence as a woman. Over the course of the following decade their relationship fluctuates, they initially get back together, drift apart, lose touch and reconnect. Throughout all of this Laurence finds her way as a woman seeking acceptance and the chance to live as she has always wanted to.
Tom at the Farm is a wild and unnerving Hitchcockian thriller, complete with a Bernard Hermann-esque score and a very unusual family. Dolan plays the eponymous Tom, whose boyfriend Guillaume has recently died. Tom heads to Guillaume’s family farm for the funeral but discovers that the family don’t know who he is, and Guillaume’s mother is furious that his (non-existent) girlfriend has not arrived for the funeral. Only Francis, the intimidating older brother, has any notion of who Tom really is and over the course of, first days, then weeks, brings Tom under his control.
Although Tom’s presence is both unexpected and unexplained, Guillaume’s mother welcomes him wholeheartedly and insists he stays. Whether out of a feeling of obligation, or out of loneliness Tom finds himself unable to leave the farm even as life on the farm becomes increasingly dangerous and sinister.
Tom at the Farm is a superb thriller, mysterious, uncomfortable and deeply strange, and proves Dolan’s talents can break into new genres.