At age 25, gay French Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan has already had an amazing career. His first movie, “I Killed My Mother” won several awards at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009. His fifth and latest film, “Mommy,” which opens today at the Landmark Theatres in the D.C.-area market, won the Jury Prize at Cannes and the Canadian Screen Award for Best Motion Picture and Best Director.
Dolan became a director because he “really needed to act.” He began his show-biz career as a child actor, but as an adult, decided he didn’t want to deal with casting agents and studios anymore. He realized, “the only way I could get around those obstacles was to be the director and producer of my own films and cast myself.”
While Dolan doesn’t act in his current release (“There were no parts in ‘Mommy’ for me.”), Dolan’s approach to filmmaking is very actor-focused and character-driven.
“That’s what matters to me — the quality of the acting,” he says.
Dolan’s work with his cast is very collaborative.
“We constantly talk about the scene and the character and the dialogue. We constantly change. We rewrite to their liking and my liking,” he says. “The only way I can work with actors is by acting with them.”
When he’s not directing, Dolan is in demand as an actor. He’s currently starring in “Elephant Song” with Catherine Keener, Bruce Greenwood and Carrie-Anne Moss. He’s also active as a voice actor, providing the French voice for a number of Hollywood’s leading men. He’s dubbed Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Eddie Redmayne (in “My Week with Marilyn” and “The Theory of Everything”), Taylor Lautner in the “Twilight” movies and Josh Hutcherson (Peeta) in the “Hunger Games” movies. He was also the voice of Ron Weasley in the French language release of the “Harry Potter” movies.
Dolan loves the challenges of voice-over work. “I have always worshipped dubbing and I will never quit doing it. Dubbing these actors is such an interesting gymnastic for the acting mind.” While he’s generally cast to dub a specific actor (“normally you stick to your actors”), Dolan has also worked on some interesting one-time projects, like dubbing Pi in “The Life of Pi,” Brainy Smurf in “The Smurfs” and Stan in “South Park.”
Mother of Invention
“Mommy” (in French with English subtitles) is the story of Diane “Die” Deprés (Anne Dorval), a middle-aged widow struggling to make ends meet. When her son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) is kicked out of a group home for setting a fire in the cafeteria, she tries to take care of him on her own.
He has been diagnosed with ADHD and is subject to violent outbursts. Their neighbor Kyla (Suzanne Clément), a shy teacher with a severe speech defect, tries to help the troubled pair as Steve’s behavior spirals out of control.
Director Xavier Dolan’s bold choice of unusual framing (the aspect ratio is 1:1) yields amazing results. The feeling is contemporary and claustrophobic and draws you directly into the experience of the characters.
He also experiments with other unusual filmmaking techniques to good effect. The music the audience hears is the same music the characters hear, which draws viewers into the film’s world. Equally effective are several passages where the soundtrack is silent.
Each of the three leads has worked with Dolan before and that close working relationship enables them to turn in fiercely committed performances and create scenes that crackle with raw emotion.