Our second ‘In Praise Of’ post, in which we look to some of the overlooked filmmakers of film history (new and old), we have the Egyptian-born, Canadian actor, writer and director, Xavier Dolan. He has only been on my radar for a few days, but in that time has made a huge impression. Having written, directed, and starred in five feature films (one a year), and aged only 25, that sounds like a great feat in itself. Where Xavier’s greatness shines though is through his immense talent in all aspects of production. His films have been in selection at Cannes each year – this year tying for the Jury Prize with none-other than Jean-Luc Godard! His films are deeply personal, often violent, beautifully crafted, with a focus on parental issues and unrealistic expectations of love.
Dolan attracted international attention with his first feature film, ‘I Killed My Mother’, which he wrote, directed and starred in. The film premiered at the Director’s Fortnight program of the 2009 Cannes Film Festival where it received an eight minute standing ovation and won the Art Cinema Award, the Prix Regards Jeunes and the SACD Prize. ‘I Killed My Mother’ was subsequently sold to more than 20 countries.
After ‘I Killed My Mother’, Dolan directed his second feature film, ‘Heartbeats’, which was financed privately. The film follows two friends who are infatuated with the same mysterious young man; inevitably, their friendship suffers. It premiered in the Un Certain Regard category at the 63e Festival de Cannes in May 2010 and received a standing ovation, and won the top prize of the Official Competition at the Sydney Film Festival in June.
His third film ‘Laurence Anyways’ was selected to compete in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the section’s award for Best Actress.
In May 2012, Dolan announced that his fourth film would be an adaption of Michel Marc Bouchard’s play ‘Tom at the Farm’. It received its world premiere in the main competition section at the 70th Venice International Film Festival on 2 September 2013 and won the FIPRESCI award.
Dolan’s 2014 film ‘Mommy’ won the Jury Prize in the main competition section at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival sharing it with Godard’s film ‘Goodbye to Language’ (Adieu au langage). The Jury president at the 2014 festival was Jane Campion and, upon receiving the award, Dolan stated: “The Piano [Campion’s film] was the first film that I watched that truly defined who I am … It made me want to write films for beautiful women with soul and will and strength. To even stand on the same stage as you [Campion] is extraordinary.”
His next film (his first English language feature) follows John F. Donovan (played by Kit Harington), an actor whose life and career are turned upside-down when a gossip columnist (Jessica Chastain) exposes his private correspondence with an 11-year old fan. The film also stars Susan Sarandon as Donovan’s mother and Kathy Bates as his manager.
If it weren’t for the fact that I’ve been so overwhelmed by the emotion and quality of his work, I’d be inclined to be jealous of all he’s achieved thus far. Quite the contrary though – I’m inspired. Renowned for being something of an Enfant Terrible, Xavier Dolan is blazing a unique and impressive trail. Comparable to Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Harmony Korine, he makes deeply passionate, occasionally controversial, beautifully-realised films, with images that will linger for years to come.