Xavier Dolan is a young Québecois actor and filmmaker, internationally famous for his two movies I Killed My Mother and Heartbeats. Among his many talents, he is renowned for his ability to select intense musical tracks to illustrate the beautiful imagery and masterful use of slow-motion often employed in his visual work. We screened his newest movie, Laurence Anyways, during our Paris event last week, and he gave us a few minutes of his time to discuss the way he conceives his films, as well as the tense situation in Québec.
The Creators Project: After filming filial love and casual flings, what motivated you to make a film about adult relationships? Is this the reason why you yourself are not part of Laurence Anyways’ cast?
Xavier Dolan: It is pretty simple, actually. I’m not in the main cast because there was no role for me. There is indeed a generation gap that drove me away from the characters I’m exhibiting in my movie. If I really wanted to, I could have written a specific role for me or change an existing character, etc. But I’m not quite there yet. I think that filming a story about adult relationships was in the continuity of my short filmography. Teenage love, young love, adult love. This was the coherent progression of an unconscious trilogy on impossible love.
It looks like drama took over the main themes of your previous movies—be it joy, humor, a carefree nature or ingenuousness.
Laurence Anyways is not a light movie. It’s supposed to be a sentimental drama. If I did it properly, it’s also tragic and sometimes heart-rending. But life has always been bittersweet and I try to put a bit of humor when sadness becomes too far-reaching. In my opinion, it’s essential to find the right balance. This movie has no humorous pretend. My dialogues might be ironic and caustic from time to time, but the exposed situations are pretty dramatic and serious, just like you said.
Your young mind seems to pinpoint issues affecting a certain generation that didn’t get the chance to have such a film forum. Do you feel encouraged by this generation of youth that’s full of questions regarding identity, sexuality and gender, and by the social questions expressed in Québec with the students’ strikes?
I’m from a generation that is constantly asking questions and seeking change rather than staying in a [state of] static observation. This political awakening participates in the rebellion led by an intellectual minority, left aside by a big part of Generation X. They relegated baby-boomers and their projects, their dreams and their battles, and wrongly called them phoneys, clumsy poets and left-wing idealists. Québec has calmed down and become sleepy. But in this smooth and pastel-colored landscape, new spirits are outraged by this indolence and forbearance. They are giving the finger to the democratic system that was set up, but also to more general a priori on sexuality, environment, bilingualism in Québec, and other circumstances they want to dissect and demystify. Two generations are associating to think about an ideal country, and to the things they don’t want to see in Québec. In the 1960s and the 1970s, we saw the birth of this country, and we’re currently undergoing its adolescent crisis.
In your work, we can see your will to deal with subjetcs with great intensity. Sometimes, there is a kind of violence between your characters, but you still manage to stay faithful to a very clean aesthetic. How do you manage to fuse the plastic strength of your direction with these intense acting skills?
I’m an extremely violent pursuit. I love beauty and it’s almost a reflex for me to desire it and to search it everywhere. But the anger within me supplants by far my cosmetic need of settings and costumes. Whatever people may think, the problems I’m attached to have always been more human than aesthetic.
We noticed your fondness for slow-motion, especially in Heartbeats. How does this technique help you convey a message? What influenced you?
What I love most about cinema is its ability to offer us what we can’t have in real life: a plethora of slow and ethereal passages, for instance. I’ve been seeing slow-motion my entire life, with German expressionism movies and works from Jean Cocteau, Gus Van Sant, Wong Kar-wai and many others. Slow-motion is not 24 FPS, it’s really something else. You have to think thoroughly when you don’t film at a regular speed. And when you make that choice, you have two options. You press a button or you press another one.