Taking Inspiration From Xavier Dolan
Xavier Dolan may not be as popular of a name as Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg, but he has already made six, soon to be seven, feature films. For his work he’s already won eight Cannes Film Festival awards, gained attention from the Academy, and worked with acclaimed actors such as Susan Sarandon, Jessica Chastain, Natalie Portman, Léa Seydoux, and Marion Cotillard. All this, and he’s only a 28 year old kid from Montreal.
His first full length film, I Killed My Mother or J’ai Tué Ma Mère, was made when he was just 19 years old. He wrote the script at age 17, gathered funds from wherever he could, convinced the Quebecois TV-star Anne Dorval to work with him, and took off. Yes, there were major hiccups along the way, including running out of money and being ditched by his distributor and producer, but what was made in the end lead to an 8 minute standing ovation following its premiere at Cannes.
A 19 year old Canadian kid getting an 8 minute standing ovation for his first feature film at one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. Sounds like a dream come true. But what are we to make of such a success from someone who began only two years after graduating high school, someone who came from the Canadian suburbs just like most of us? Young, Canadian, aspiring filmmakers such as myself could easily (and rightfully so) be jealous that he stemmed from such a similar background and became successful so quickly. Or we could be inspired. I chose to be inspired.
Xavier Dolan’s films are not perfect - they can maybe seem to be a bit pretentious or maybe seem to go nowhere, but as his career progresses so does his voice and his eye, and so the quality of his movies can only go forwards. Xavier Dolan uses his youth by telling stories that he knows about, stories that have no age limit. He doesn’t pretend to be older than he is. Mostly his films center around our relationship with our mothers, or our relationship with our families, our relationship with ourselves, with our sexuality. These complications are universally relatable and ageless, and he doesn’t try to offer an answer that he doesn’t have. All he does is tell a story. That’s all we need, and that’s something that young, Canadian, aspiring filmmakers can do too.
Maybe easier said than done.
Another inspiration we can draw from Xavier Dolan’s talent is his boldness. Every one of Xavier Dolan’s films have been bold, all of them in some way making you reflect on your own personal relationships with the world and the complications that come with them. He is unafraid to confront situations that are sometimes uncomfortable to be confronted with, like a man struggling to tell his dysfunctional, broken family that he’s dying, or the relationship between a fierce mother and her charismatic yet violently ADHD son. He tells these stories that we’ve never heard before, and he portrays them beautifully on screen. He’s bold not only in his story choices, but in the portrayal of them too. In his 2014 movie Mommy, he uses an unconventional square 1:1 aspect ratio, meaning the film is cropped closer to the portraits to get a more intimate look into the characters. He utilizes this as a tool to portray emotions, too, by expanding the frame to a standard aspect ratio to express the freedom the characters feel during certain scenes. This was something I, and I’m sure many other’s, have never even considered to be an option. But of course: why not? There are no rules when it comes to what entices and attracts viewers to the screen. Xavier Dolan’s boldness when it comes to the stories he tells and the manner in which he tells them is certainly something for young storytellers to take note of, as it can sometimes take the brash confidence that only comes with youth.
All in all, Xavier Dolan is a perfect example of how successful a young, fresh voice can be. Through his work, young storytellers and filmmakers can learn to use their youth as an advantage rather than something to overcome or wait out. With six successful feature films under his belt since his filmmaking career began at 19, and with his Canadian roots, Xavier Dolan is the perfect director to be keeping an eye on.