You are not given the nickname Enfant chéri or Darling Child from the famous Cannes Festival for no reasons. At only 27 years old, Xavier Dolan has wrote and directed seven worldwide acclaimed pictures and two videoclips with combined views of over two billions. Dolan eats, sleeps and breathes cinema and has done so his entire life.
Son of actor Manuel Tadros, Xavier was exposed to the business at a young age, four years old, when he started to make commercials on television. Child actor, then voice actor, he worked on over a hundred films dubbed in French, a job he still enjoys doing to this day.
Xavier Dolan gained experience at an exponential rate and managed to shoot bigger films one after the other. From his first film that he produced himself to his next project, the biggest to this date, it’s hard to compare his career to nearly anyone his age.
Switching between intimate projects to ambitious ones, Dolan is involved to almost every stage of his films. Through aesthetic extravagances, he is a quintessential of the LGBTQA+ community, women and French-Canadian cinema. He is dynamic, outspoken and he is not afraid of anything.
In 2008, at only 19 years old, Dolan produced and directed his first film.
We gain experience in life through our multiple adventures in school, work and relationships. A child who works with adults, travels the world and acts at a young age can achieve maturity quickly. He is able, long before most of the youth, to have a profound hindsight about his own life. First day, first shot, Dolan didn’t even know where to put the camera. By growing up in the industry, you watch and mimic your peers.
Kubrick, PT Anderson, Welles, Spielberg, among other great directors, are well known autodidacts. Unlike most filmmakers of his generation, Dolan didn’t master his craft by doing short films or commercials. Coming from an acting background, his main focus is on dialogue and actors. That’s what drives him and got him where he is: telling stories. Dolan has a beautiful writing; being practicing all his life long through short stories and poems, focusing next on screenplays was the logical thing to do.
From student to master, Dolan has followed an impressive path. After being bound to produce his first film, he dragged everyone in his near crazy adventures. Even Gus Van Sant got in the mix for Laurence Anyways.
Talent can’t be taught and Xavier Dolan has many.
Actor, voice actor, writer, filmmaker, producer, costume designer, editor. Dolan has accomplished more in a few years than most of us can aspire in a whole career.
In his very first film, which he wrote, produced and directed, Dolan also starred in the lead and designed the costumes, an habit that would be the leitmotiv of his career. Apparently, he directed his own film because he was tired of being a semi-employed actor doing laundry and waiting for the phone to ring.
Dolan has an eye for art; no doubt Louis Vuitton chose him as an ambassador for their Spring-Summer Collection of 2016.
“Aesthetics are nothing if there is no connection with meaning.”
– Xavier Dolan
Costumes, hairdressing and set design are particularly rich in the likes of Les Amours Imaginaires, Mommy and especially Laurence Anyways. Even the retro kitsch look in Juste la fin du monde (which reminds us a lot of J’ai tué ma mère) got supervised by Xavier Dolan himself. Being raised in the 90s, Dolan’s aesthetics perfectly embodies that decade. He has a flamboyant artistic taste which is extremely related to characters, their psychology and the themes of each movie.
Not only he delivers amazingly his stories, but he does it at three different levels; screenwriting, directing and editing. Some say that a director has to step back from his art, but Dolan is so tied up to his films that he just can’t let go.
As an artist, compromises are sometimes hard to swallow. Everyday you make decisions, assume every choice and fight for your ideas. It’s hard to make the right call and it’s even harder when you take position as a public figure in front of medias. That’s why artists often don’t share their political opinions in regard of their various fans.
2012, again in Cannes. Dolan showed up wearing a red square on his jacket in solidarity with the Quebec students’ protest that was quickly becoming a revolution. He exposed his view about what was going on and informed the press all around the world of what was really happening since the general medias wouldn’t cover much of it.
In 2014, Dolan stood up against Vincent Guzzo, owner of ten movie theaters. Guzzo caused quite a stir when he blamed Quebec filmmakers for the lousy performances of their films in cinemas. He also said that their films were too wimpy. Dolan didn’t have to defend anyone, since his movies always make a good performance at the box-office, but he stood up anyhow.
His next fight was against none other than the giant Netflix. The streaming company changed the 1:1 aspect-ratio of Mommy to a widescreen format. It is known that a crucial scene in the film open up to 1:85. Take it as it is, or remove it. It is not any filmmaker that has the courage to stand up again such a multinational who have such power s in the entertainment market.
When he received the Prix du Jury for Mommy, the first thing he did was thanking Jane Campion for the influence she had on him and on every woman wanting to be a director. Dolan is a well-known feminist, one of the few of any age, as he casts to cast so many women in lead roles in his films.
4. Depth of Themes
Women, sexuality and youth. Dolan exposes his life into each film he makes. He is the center of his own world, he knows himself very well, and has no shame to expose the Oedipus complex.
J’ai tué ma mère is a melting pot of everything we will later find in his cinematography. Troubled childhood, love-hate relationship with a mother and impossible love relationship : these are themes that, as a spectator, we can all easily relate, giving us raw and real emotions that we all go through our life. Interesting and impressive for someone of his age. The way he examines mothers, which are flawed, as real human being, not second role.
Even if he was sanctified as a queer director, Dolan has rejected this title by telling that art has no frontier, nor orientation.
“There’s no such thing as queer cinema. My generation has sexual, sensual and sentimental boundaries that are completely different from those of the generations that precede us… I’ve never been coy about or ashamed of being gay, but I’ve been making a relentless effort, since the first scene of I Killed My Mother, to avoid claiming things. These movies are not fights for rights, they’re movies.”
– Xavier Dolan
At only 20 years old, J’ai tué ma mère was screened at the 41e Quinzaine de Réalisateurs at Cannes in 2009. Six years later, Xavier Dolan was part of the jury of the same festival that put him on the map. In 2016, he received the Grand Prix for It’s only the end of the World (Juste la fin du monde).
Xavier Dolan often mentioned that he is aiming for the Palme d’Or. It’s fair to say that looking at his resume, the future still looks bright for the 27 years old filmmaker. His age barely dictates his limits and the boundaries he’s able or unable to push.
Very few directors find success around the world, though Dolan has managed to take over Canadian cinema, French cinema and American cinema, which he is heading now to. His next film, also partly biographical, stars Kit Harrington. Dolan would be one of the first to use the breakout star of Game of Thrones. Needless to say, fans will turned out in force to see this film that also stars Jessica Chastain, Natalie Portman and Susan Sarandon.
After Oscars nominations for Denys Arcand, Philippe Falardeau and Denis Villeneuve, it seems like a natural route for the young French-Canadian.