This may come as little surprise to you, considering the title of the article, but Xavier Dolan is one of my favorite directors. He’s imaginative and passionate about his characters, and he tells emotional stories unburdened from cynicism; his films feel fresh and new. With the U.S. release of his fifth feature film Tom at the Farm being released in limited theaters this Friday, this is why you should be paying attention to the young filmmaker. If you haven’t seen any of his prior films, I suggest you watch them in order of when they were released.
Strong Female Characters
Dolan writes for actresses better than any current male director. There is a palpable admiration for womanhood in his films, from the way they dress to the way they smoke, to how they love and how they fight. He writes meaty roles for some immensely talented actresses–how can you walk away from Laurence Anyways not completely stricken by Suzanne Clemet’s performance, or after watching his films not have a appreciation for the work of Anne Dorval? Fred in Laurence Anyways is a particular marvel as she slowly unravels but is always drawn back to Laurence. She is satisfyingly human, and her love for Laurence is never weakened, even when it pains her. She is one of the best female characters of the last ten years.
The Emotional Core of His Stories
Aside from maybe Heartbeats, which is vapid and more visually impressive than it is on a narrative level, all of Dolan’s films have a steady and persistent emotional core. J’ai tue ma mere had its misguided rage, Tom at the Farm has a sinister sexual undercurrent and lost love, Laurence Anyways is a romantic, fifteen-year epic between two kindred spirits, and Mommy is about bonds you share and a mother’s unfailing love for her son.
I don’t see many films that stylistically match what I see in a Dolan film. His utilization of over the shoulder point of view, his color composition and vibrancy, it’s distinctly him. His decision to shoot in a 1:1 ratio in Mommy never feels like a gimmick, and is instead befitting to this very personal story. Nothing is hidden; everything is exposed for the audience to see. His filmmaking continues to grow, and he still has time to hone his craft and tweak, but his style is distinct, often atypical, and has all of the cinematic flourishes you could ask for.
He’s Our Generation’s Filmmaker
For the twenty-year-old crowd, Xavier Dolan could very much be the filmmaker of our generation. Having begun directing at the age of nineteen (he’s twenty-five now) and having made five feature films so far (with two more on the way), he shows no sign of stopping. Not only is his pace relentless, he’s also improved marketably with each passing film. Aside from enjoying J’ai tue ma mere (messy at times and yes, indulgent, but emotionally raw) more than Heartbeats (which I found too shallow), each film has seen either an emotional step forwards or a technical one. Laurence Anyways is a behemoth of a film, his epic, encompassing everything that makes a Dolan film special, and many I’d presume would have the greatest emotional connection than to any of his others. Tom at the Farm is a departure, demonstrating that the filmmaker can create thrillers and can adapt a film that wasn’t written by him. Mommy takes all of the strongest aspects of his four other installments, tunes them up, and delivers his most affecting film to date.
Taking a look at the diverse slate of films, it’s hard not to eagerly anticipate his next movies (which include casts that respectively have Marion Cotillard and Jessica Chastain, if you weren’t already excited). He’s young, enthusiastic, and has talent in spades. Fans and critics alike tend to feel nostalgic of filmmakers of the past, believing them to be long gone in a crop of directors today that seem to be picked out of obscurity and placed into tentpole films. While that within itself is a ludicrous concept (refusing to celebrate modern cinema for the sole factor of it being modern is beyond aggravating), there are plenty of interesting and dynamic young filmmakers, with Dolan leading the pack. Five films in, Dolan deserves to be considered not only one to watch, but celebrated as one of the best of our generation.
If you’re wondering how on earth I could forget to mention the music of his films, I didn’t forget–it’s just worthy of an entire post!
Tom at the Farm is released this Friday, August 14th. Check back in then for my review.