XAVIER DOLAN ON CINEMA
By Crash redaction
XAVIER DOLAN – COLLEGE BOY
ONLY 24 AND WITH THREE FEATURES ALREADY UNDER HIS BELT, XAVIER DOLAN LAUNCHED HIS BRILLIANT CAREER AT AN EXTREMELY YOUNG AGE AND HASN’T LET UP SINCE. WITH SEVERAL NEW PROJECTS CURRENTLY UNDERWAY, WE MANAGED TO CATCH UP WITH HIM DURING A BRIEF STOP IN PARIS. ON TIME, PACING, REST AND RECURRING IMAGES, WE TAKE A REFRESHER COURSE IN THE ALREADY LENGTHY STORY OF THIS CANADIAN PHENOM, AS HE PREPARES TO RELEASE HIS NEXT FEATURE, A PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER SET IN THE CANADIAN COUNTRYSIDE: “TOM AT THE FARM.”
Interview by Armelle Leturcq
You seem to have a special relationship with time: you were only 20 when your first feature came out…
I wrote it when I was 17, fought to make it when I was 18, directed it at 19, and when it finally came out I was 20…
And now you’re already on your fourth feature!
And in the meantime I’ve already directed a fifth: “Mommy.” With all the travel, festivals, premieres, and meetings in this industry, time can be a slippery thing as you find yourself putting in more and more hours. My fourth feature, “Tom at the Farm,” it seems like I directed it a long time ago! Filming ended about a year and a half ago. But it’s only coming out now because it took time to get it finished and distributed. But as soon as production ended on that film, I started working on another. So the whole team all agreed to wait a little.
How did you find the resources to fund your first projects?
I put everything I had into it, all the money I had saved from my acting work. It was a lot of money for someone my age. It wasn’t a lot to make a movie with, but I was willing to work with whatever I had. Actually, the only way I even managed to get access to all the money was to act like I was buying an apartment! So I didn’t keep any money, I burned it all on those movies. Since then I’ve put everything I earn back into my next projects. That’s how I make sure I can work at the pace I want to work at. I always invest in my films. My goal isn’t to stack up dollars for myself. I want to create. I’m thrilled with all the traveling I’ve done and all the people I’ve met. For me the real reward is artistic. I don’t think an artist’s success is measured in financial terms, unless you want to be incredibly disappointed and unhappy. I’d rather be grateful. Only now am I able to do movies where I can give myself a small salary.
That’s very impressive, because you are still really young…
I’m young, but I’ve already directed five films now. So I have the expectations of someone who’s made five films. My demands grow with each new experience. Every film has brought its share of mistakes, lessons, and new expectations. I haven’t taken any time off since I started my career. The pace has been fast and furious over the past six years: writing, production, post-production, travel, festivals, writing, production… With no time off between each step. So I decided to take a break next fall. I’m planning to study art history at McGill. I don’t really have any education, just high school.
Is student life something you’ve been missing?
All my friends are students. And I have to say I envy them a bit. They have time to study, discover new things, and try new things… Student life is something I’d like to experience. Even homework! I have this image of gigantic libraries with thousands of little green lamps… I have a very romantic idea of education.
Now feels like the right time to take some distance from your work?
I love my work. And I’m not stuck in any kind of boring routine. But I want to do something new. Everything has been so intense recently that it feels like I’ve lived 15 years in the past 5 years. And it has been tiring, too, especially since I’ve been acting in addition to directing. Every new project brings along an energy. And it’s an anonymous thing. We always say it’s “the energy of the project,” but a project is not a person: it doesn’t have its own energy. The energy comes from our bodies, which offer resistance, which fall down and get back in the saddle, reinvigorated and ready for a new experience… for a time at least. I’m starting to see that this energy wears down with time.
At the moment, are you more interested in acting or directing?
Both. Always. But I have to say that acting is a kind of need for me. I like confrontational, liberating roles. On the last movie I directed, “Mommy,” I truly envied all the actors I was working with. I even directed “I Killed My Mother” just so I could act in it, because I wasn’t getting any other offers. At the time I thought that if I directed myself, then nobody could stand in my way and keep me from acting. That’s how it all started. I was 4 when I acted in my first film. Acting is what I like most in film: acting, directing actors, exploring all the possibilities of acting, redefining standards… I also like having the chance to work with great actors. I have this wild filmmaker’s dream of revealing some new aspect of their acting prowess.
How did you manage to start acting at 4?
My aunt was a production manager and she had heard about an audition where they had trouble finding the right person, so she told my mom to send me. After that I did a bunch of auditions and parts one after the next. Then I went to a boarding school when I was 8 and stayed till I was 12, and the whole thing stopped for a while. Afterwards things slowly built back up.
You play the lead role in “Tom at the Farm.” Where did you get the story for this movie? It was a play I had seen and liked so much I decided to adapt it for the screen! Michel Marc Bouchard, who wrote the original play, became a friend of mine and we worked together on the adaptation.
It’s a very unsettling film, similar to Haneke’s “Funny Games,” for example…
Great! I really like “Funny Games”! It was exciting for me, after having done three love stories, to dive into something a little darker. It was disorienting and totally new for me.
The locations are spectacular. Did you film it all in Canada?
In the Canadian countryside around Montreal. What I like best about the location we found is that it’s not this kind of antique homestead. It’s not at all your typical image of a farm. It’s an ordinary house you can find in any American suburb, except it’s just plopped down in the middle of nowhere! So it’s not at all the rustic, pastoral setting that might carry its own kind of charm.
You have never filmed in France, but “Tom at the Farm” was a French production…
I had to find the right people in order to work at my own pace, and MK2 stepped in for this project. I haven’t done a story set in France, yet, but it might happen. Only time will tell. I come up with all the stories I write. And since I’m Canadian, they all take place in Canada. That’s what I know best. And culture is a national priority in Canada. A lot of funding is available.
Any projects in the United States?
Actually, my next film after “Mommy” will be set in America. I plan to start production in about a year and a half, since it’s a bit of a challenging project. I want to take my time to plan everything meticulously and find American actors… It’s going to be about an American movie star who starts corresponding with an aspiring young actor who lives in the London suburbs with his odd and awkward mother. Through a series of unfortunate events, the relationship will lead to the star’s downfall.
The image of the mother appears a lot in your films…
It’s a recurring image in my movies. Even when the mother is not the central focus of the film, she’s still in there somewhere. The mother was the character that inspired “Tom at the Farm.” Mothers are always incredibly intense, complete, and complex characters. My relationship with my own mother has calmed down lately. When I was doing my first film, things were pretty tense as I was going through adolescence. The truth is we’re nothing alike. We’re incompatible on a very basic level. But that doesn’t keep us from loving each other and having a great time together. “Mommy” is the story of an incredibly isolated and uneducated single mother. She’s played by Anne Dorval who already played my mother in my first film. In the film she gets custody of her son who’s just been released from a reform center, so he’s very unstable. Both mother and son are in a very vulnerable, precarious situation. With some help from a neighbor, they try to get their lives together until… And that’s where the story begins!
PHOTOGRAPHY Élise Toïde / FASHION Armelle Leturcq
HAIR Rodolphe Farmer @Backstage Agency
MAKE UP Aya using MAC Cosmetics
TALENT Xavier Dolan
LOCATION 22 Visconti