Every year, when my birthday comes, I keep thinking “By 25, Orson Welles had done the War of the Worlds broadcast and scared his country, directed Citizen Kane, the most influential film in history, and won an Oscar for it. What about me? ” Granted, that’s high standards, but we all know our brain is not always our best friend.
It could be argued that a contemporary filmmaker fits in that category of “filmmaking prodigy”. At age 27, Xavier Dolan has done more (quality and quantity wise) than most. He doesn’t like being reminded of his age, and it’s definitely not a criterion to assess drive (he’s got plenty), ambition (he’s got plenty) or maturity (look at his work).
He already has five films under his belt, all of which have screened at the major festivals in the world (four out of five in Cannes, one in Venice). Looking back -already- here are 7 things to love about him.
1. He’s Canadian
Granted, Raindance has a soft spot for Canada. That does not diminish the fact that Dolan is one of the many signs of hope coming from the country of the maple leaf -the main one being in the (great) shape of Justin Trudeau. Dolan is also one of the majors Canadian filmmakers who are present on the world film stage, along with Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners, Incendies) or Denys Arcand (The Barbarian Invasions).
2. He has a lo-to-no budget ethos
His first feature, J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother) was made on a shoestring budget, financed by a lifetime of savings put aside from a career as a child actor and voiceover/dubbing artist. It definitely shows in the aesthetics that he has yet to find a complete voice, but few have in history have been able to make such a distinctive first feature on such a lo-to-no budget. It was also the first appearance of a company of actors we’d see in his later films, Les Amours Imaginaires (Heartbeats), Laurence Anyways, Tom at the Farm and Mommy.
3. He makes incredibly powerful films
Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Xavier Dolan is a ball of energy that’s as powerful as he is polarising: his media outings have often spurred controversy. He’s annoyed many, and certain critics have found his films so blatantly manipulative that they couldn’t get hooked by the story. Whatever side you find yourself on, it’s rare to find a filmmaker with such a distinctive voice. His first films showed unbelievable maturity and clear-eyed vision, and that’s undeniably the other side of that coin. Xavier Dolan is guided by a vision for each of his projects permeates every second of the film.
4. He stands against empires.
Unbending vision and uncompromising belief is often a call for action.At the beginning of 2016, Xavier Dolan took to Twitter to call out Netflix for a major blunder that had been committed by the steaming service. In Mommy, the changing aspect ratio of the image plays a crucial part in expressing different moments of the narrative, in terms of emotions and hopes -most notably in the following scene. (Careful: chills are coming.)
However Netflix encoded it to a fixed aspect that lost the tremendous emotional impact of the filmmaking trick. So he took to Twitter posting an open letter to which Netflix responded. The mistake was corrected.
What does that tell us? Yes Dolan is social media savvy. He can also take down empires.
5. He uses music perfectly
The greatest filmmakers in history have had great musical moments. Spielberg and Williams had countless ones. Scorsese introduced rock&roll into films. Scorsese is one of many who directed music videos. Dolan did so twice: with cult French band Indochine and, memorably, Adele.
Music is the most direct way to anyone’s heart. (Food is as well.) Beyond the music videos Dolan has always know how to pair music and footage in memorable ways, since his first feature, when he made the sexiest scene in recent years.
Laurence Anyways also gave him the opportunity to create the ball scene -expect as much glamour, glitz and decadence at the Independent Filmmaker’s Ball– which was as visually striking and bombastic as you would expect from that kind of director with such a strong story and amazing vision.
6. He has tattoos
Xavier Dolan has also garnered attention on social media for his ink. Most recently he got the face of Albus Dumbledore on his forearm. He’s had a collection of tattoos for a long time, which say a lot about him and his art. (It also means he can endure pain, and anyone who’s ever directed knows it’s a necessary skill.)
Among others, he has drawings by Jean Cocteau on his arm, and quotes on both his thighs which express his work ethic in a nutshell -and in French. “A l’impossible je suis tenu”, I am held to the impossible. “L’oeuvre est une sueur”, work is sweat. Not only does he have grand visions for his work, he goes full throttle to realise them and go beyond what’s possible.
7. He has two films coming out in 2016.
Bearing all that in mind, there’s all the more anticipation to be had about the fact the Dolan will be releasing two features this year.
The first one is It’s only the end of the world, with the biggest names in French-speaking cinema: Léa Seydoux, Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel and Nathalie Baye (with whom he worked on Laurence Anyways). Bonus: it’s screening at Cannes.
The second one will be his first English-speaking feature, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, starring Natalie Portman, Kathy Bates, Susan Sarandon, Michael Gambon, Kit Harington, Taylor Kitsch, Nicholas Hoult and Jessica Chastain. If you pair one of the most exciting film directors working with only the biggest/best names around, excitement’s in the air.