Cannes Diary #5
Xavier Dolan is no stranger to the Cannes Film Festival: four of his five feature films have had their premieres here. But it’s his latest, Mommy, that seems to be stirring the sort of excitement often reserved for more mature auteurs. Dolan has made five movies in five years but this year he’s in competition for the very first time.
While Mommy shares a bit of a title with his 2009 debut, I Killed My Mother, Dolan sees this new film as quite different. While I Killed My Mother was told from the point of view of a teenager, this one examines a mother’s own adversities. While his first feature was more personal, he said today, this one is more existential.
“I want to depict very strong women,” Dolan said at a Cannes press conference where he was warmly welcomed by an extended round of applause. “That’s always been the case since the beginning of my career.”
He said he couldn’t quite pinpoint the reason, but maternal figures have always inspired him more than paternal ones. Perhaps it’s that he was raised by a single mom, Dolan admitted today. While he respects his own dad, he said, father figures don’t impress him.
When he was 9 years old, Dolan’s mom took him to a movie and his life changed forever. He’d already been acting for five years at the time, but seeing James Cameron’s Titanic opened his eyes to the possibilities of cinema.
“There was this time in the Nineties when I saw this film that made me fall in love with a woman, a man, costumes, cinema itself, the art of telling a story,” Dolan told me here in Cannes two years ago. “Titanic gave me wings and [James] Cameron taught me those notions of rhythm that I try, in the best of my capacity, to emulate somehow.”
“In the cinema you take revenge,” Dolan explained today. “You have the right to do anything and everything you want—what life doesn’t allow us to do.”
In Mommy, a widowed woman (Anne Dorval) is trying to raise her teenaged son (Antoine Olivier Pilon) who’s challenged with an intense case of ADHD. The two bond with a neighbor (Suzanne Clément), and the trio form a tight family unit. Dolan explained today that he wanted to make a movie in which three main roles effectively merge to become a single lead character.
It is a film whose characters find hope before they arrive at a surprising conclusion.
“This is a movie about the American dream,” Dolan said today in Cannes. Even though he shot the film near where he grew up in Canada, he said he had originally intended to film in the United States, adding: “But this dream has never been designed for them. Many things are playing against them.”
The look of the film has had Cannes attendees buzzing. Dolan and cinematographer André Turpin decided to employ a 1:1 aspect ratio. Many here are likening the image to that of the social photo app Instagram. But Dolan had a reason for employing a narrow field of vision: he expressly intended to limit his audience’s options.
“The spectator is sort of imprisoned,” Dolan interpreted today. “They can only look into the eyes of the character.”
As with his other films—I Killed My Mother, Heartbeats (10), Laurence Anyways (12), and Tom at the Farm (13)—Dolan performs many key roles: writing, directing, producing, editing, designing the costumes, and even authoring the press notes. The many parts he plays for his own films elicited a common question from the press today.
“I don’t know. It’s my passion,” Dolan explained slowly. “It’s not a duty, it’s not like work. It’s just my mode of expression. I need to express myself. I need to create.”
He said he hopes to work on films in the future in which others edit, or design the costumes, but for now he just aims to keep doing what he cares about.
“You never know how much time we have on earth,” Dolan elaborated, inspiring another journalist to question his steady output as a filmmaker despite his young age. Where does this energy come from?
“Ideally, I would not try to build limits for myself based upon my age. I don’t believe there’s a proper age to start telling stories. I just feel like I’m trying to do the right thing to tell a story that haunts me,” Xavier Dolan said. “I am trying to prove to people that they should express themselves no matter what their age is.”
He added that he’s not afraid to face reactions to his movie.
“I am not scared that people will hate it,” Dolan said today. “I have fears. I have the fears of falling on those red steps and I have the fear of stuttering, but I don’t have the fear of telling a story and creating it with people who inspire me.”