If you look at the work of brilliant 23-year-old actor, director, and writer Xavier Dolan, there’s a strong through line that penetrates his films. It’s a powerful sentiment that can be echoed by the words of Andre Breton: If I place love above everything, it is because for me it is the most desperate, the most despairing state of affairs imaginable. And for the young auteur, all of his films thus far have dealt with the strains of love and the suffering that comes when you find your soul inextricably linked to that of another. Whether it be the love between a mother and son, unrequited triangles of desire, or the strength of unconditional devotion, Dolan’s films confront the psychologically ravaging effects of human connection.
Yes, I saw Titanic when I was at an age where it wasn’t uncool. Everybody saw Titanic in my class and we loved it and quoted it as much as we did The Matrix or Harry Potter. It was a huge deal for everybody and it was the first big, big movie that I ever saw—we’re talking about Hollywood’s quintessential blockbuster but also embracing the genre and the codes and embracing its own corny decisions and choices in a way that makes it a perfection. And that’s why it still is one of the best movies ever made. It’s made to entertain and to touch and Titanic and everything in that movie is so ambitious. It’s just splendid work of storytelling. Everything in that movie works and works so well.
In this industry, you are surrounded by a lot of different people—from nerds to cinema students who are looking for that harsh, deep, and serious, serious cinema—the real cinema. All those addicts are looking for something so unsuitable, so vague that sometimes happen when a movie is true to itself, but most the time all of these endeavors are huge failures in terms of intention and are preposterous compositions and end up being fiascos—it’s a mess. And there are so many of these films out there trying so hard to be something and then amidst all these efforts, you have films that can be auteur films or commercial films that work so well because they know who they are and they’re following a very precise line, which is the script and they’re walking on that line and they have a precise ambition of what they should be doing. And they can be as sophisticated as it gets or as commercial as can be. Titanic is not to be categorized in any way, but L’enfant or La prommise are also films that work so well because they’re honest, they’re not trying so hard to impress us, they’re just doing what they should be doing.
It’s hard for me to watch that one now.
I’m proud of that film but it was hard to look at. I wish I would have shot that film on 35mm—I hate the colors, I hate the light, the whites. I enjoy some of the frames but I wish I’d known better. Yet if I could go back, I don’t assume I’d change it, because the goal of filmmaking is improvement and evolution. I don’t talk about evolution with a capital E, I mean personal evolution and when I watch it, I feel that I’ve evolved as a person and that I would make different choices now. But I understand the choices that were made and we had no money. Everybody was paid $100 a day and it was a walk away situation, and a lot of people were not familiar with movie sets, they came from stage or theater and they just wanted to make movies. So when I say it’s ugly, I don’t mean to be reductive but according to my sense of what ugly should look like, even then it still doesn’t work. It’s a collection of visual faux pas but again, there are moments I appreciate and I think people like that film a lot for what it provides emotionally.
I’m glad you say that, because it’s what we wished for. When we pitched the film, we mostly said that Heartbeats was a case of style over substance and then for me, I Killed My Mother was a case for substance over style.
Of course, it’s normal. Laurence was the opportunity to try to combine both.
I’m young and love is one of life’s strongest experiences—aside from marriage, parenthood, disease, death, grief, all these themes and things you end up talking about when you actually live a little. So for me, love is the most accessible of these themes.
Yeah, I feel that anyone can relate to that, so it’s a way for me to try and secure an audience to actually hear me out and maybe give a shit.
Thank you. As much as I like combining drama and humor, because life is about the duality of both in all its absurdity, for the same reason I like to write a story with very realistic environments interwoven with more extravagant prenthasis and segments. It’s important for me to have these situations where things are bigger than nature, bigger than the characters themselves, where you feel overwhelmed by life and it makes us remember how small we are and life itself in the movie reminds the characters of that.
Really? I never noticed.
Well see, you can make your own story.
It was never any interest at all—not that I disregard it or that transgender issues don’t interest me. But it was more interesting to use it as an ultimate expression of difference amongst the couple and society itself as a manifestation of desperate quest or desperate urge for authenticity. There’s a moment in a couple’s life when you tell the other, well, we’ve been together of a year and we’ve been on that high and on that high you know as well as I do, we’re someone else, we are lying to ourselves and acting and now comes a time when you want to be yourself because you’re tired and it takes a lot of energy and imagination to be someone else to please somebody. And at one point you slowly slide towards your original self and in that moment there’s a a confrontation when the other is like, this is who I am, can we stay together? And that’s the moment when couples stay together or break up. So for Laurence to say I’m a woman, this is who I’ve always been and this is who I want to be and who I will be, will you tag along and stick around and help me and support me in that transition, is basically like saying, this is who I am do you still love me? And that worked for me for society and for a couple.
I wanted people to ask themselves why it was located there and then. Maybe that’s expecting too much from people, but then asking themselves what it would be like today. My answer is: not any different.
It happened at Cannes for I Killed My Mother when —- gave a piece of her mind to the principal. I love these moments. You don’t do that in life. In life you just shut your mouth and you bare yourself within and you let people talk, and sometimes you dare a "please mind your own business." But you do’t stand up and make a scene, and then you wish you had, you regret it. But cinema is revenge. It’s the perfect opportunity to have these moments. And I hope it ends up being inspiring for people out there to actually stand and fight for their rights.
Of course. I may not be credited as an actor in the credits, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t play a part in that film off camera. I love playing with actors and ad libbing with them and doing improv at the end of a scene with them and giving them notes. I’m editing the film, so when I see a scene I basically see where I’m going to cut, and it’s a matter of nanoseconds—you see the actor and you’re like, okay swallow, blink, laugh, and then leave. You know that that chain of physical and emotional reactions that will seal the deal.
It got more precise with Laurence because I was in a position where I could not only act with actors, but watch them work, watch them prepare themselves, watch them get into the skin of a character. It was really in the alternate education of this and it was really inspiring and enriching. But I also got to define the approach that I like with the actors, which is constant communication. As actors, we try to leave most of the acting to coincidence, I try to live and feel the moment as spontaneously as I can but there’s always a fair amount of preparation. You see a scene and find a path of intention. If you’re thinking Mamet, you think: what is my character’s goal onto which I need to hold onto until the end of the scene? The only goal is to get away with that lie and the rest is what Mamet would call funny voices, ticks, and actors showcasing their talent and their creativity.
Always. She read the first draft.
I met her at a Gala, at a ceremony, and she was dancing and she was beautiful. I had shot a short with her now ex-boyfriend and so it was through him that we were introduced and we had a lot of fun. Also, she respected me even though I was only sixteen, she was nice to me. We started seeing each other once in a while, hanging out and we’d go for coffee and end up spending the entire day together buying cameras and taking pictures and then going to movies and then having dinner.
Not at all. The scenes we started with were pretty intense.
I’m less interested in artists who make movies and see movies as a showcase for their signature. I really believe in process and script and what does that movie need. Of course there are things that I like to portray and situations, but variety of style is the same thing as variety of tone. A psychological thriller does not have the same tone as a romance flick and does not have the same style—if Silence of the Lambs was shot like Bridesmaids it wouldn’t make any sense. So I believe in a director serving the story and trying to put his ego aside and killing his instincts and darlings and true loves in order to serve the story well. I also believe that many people would not think I’m that person and that I favor of style over content or scripts, but it’s truly not my intention. I think my fourth film shows that.
That’s exactly what I tried to do. Well, you see, more of the same then.
Well, I Killed My Mother, Heartbeats, and Laurence are unconsciously linked by a sort of trilogy. And Tom à la ferme is the first time I could ever commit to embrace a new genre and approach. In terms of music, there’s no music at all—there’s a score but nothing else. And why should there be? He’s secluded on a farm sort of as a hostage, eventually a consenting hostage, so there’s no music and no clips as there have been in all of the films so far. To finally have that movie that is a psychological thriller, it’s dry and simply shot, not trying to go with the aesthetically ugly or overstate but just not going anywhere, shooting as is. It’s hard now to be sincere and honest about movie making because everybody’s done everything, but we really went minimal. The focus is on the eerie atmosphere and the film’s doing what it should be, it’s not getting lost in tentative stuff. I’m proud of it.
Trying to have a take on Hollywood.
I am definitely not rebelling against anything because I worship Hollywood.
Yes, I’m not into the whole fuck Hollywood field. I worship it and I have so much fun those films. I’m not going to stick to one genre or one film my entire life. This something that I hope in ten years, when I’ll be dead, people will say about me, that I did make different things. That’s what I admire about Paul Thomas Anderson, that he can do Boogie Nights and then Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love—which is basically, staged and choreographed from the first second to the last and every shot in there is pure. It’s everything.
Well what happened on set, Paul? I think whatever his initial goal was, the result is really, really a masterpiece. He’s so versatile, that’s what impressive, it’s his ability to do that movie and then There Will Be Blood.