THE BLACK SHEEP INTERVIEW: XAVIER DOLAN (HEARTBEATS) Different than I Imagined
An interview with Xavier Dolan
I want to know which one of you is responsible for this. You’ve clearly hurt Quebec filmmaker, Xavier Dolan’s feelings, and I for one am not going to stand for it. He is only 21 years old and already he knows what it is to be tossed aside by critics who once purported to be his biggest fans. You built him up, and just because he didn’t do exactly what you wanted him to do, you declared him a disappointment and your earlier proclamations of genius to be premature. While I applaud your ability to admit your faults (even though the point was to highlight another’s), I’m not sure you realize just how much damage you’ve done. You should be fostering genius, not trying to kill its spirit.
When I met Dolan at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, I expected him to sit with me and speak fondly of his second feature, LES AMOURS IMAGINAIRES (HEARTBEATS)
, which he wrote while attending the festival the year before. I had just seen the film, a cynical yet optimistic exploration of the ridiculousness we all put ourselves through when we think we’re in love. Cynical because we look like idiots; optimistic because we still put ourselves through it regardless. And even though I gushed about how much I admire him as a filmmaker right at the top of our chat, I was not met with fondness; I was met with skepticism. Friendly and polite but skeptical nonetheless.
“I never pretended HEARTBEATS
would be as moving or as stirring as I KILLED MY MOTHER
,” Dolan confides when I finally veer off the course of my planned questions and ask if he is having a hard time with the press for his second film.“I never said this is going to be a better film. I said it is going to be a different film.”
And different, it is. I KILLED MY MOTHER is a semi-autobiographical piece about a gay teenager who lives with his mother and cannot seem to get along with her no matter what he does. It is raw, emotional and oddly cathartic. There is also a lot of yelling. The film was praised for its gritty, honest look at a relationship that many can identify with. On the other hand, HEARTBEATS is being chastised for being too cold and disaffected. And while it might seem natural to compare a second and first feature, Dolan doesn’t see any need for this at all.
“For me, it’s a lack of judgment to compare,” he continues when we discuss the criticism he has endured just a year after he was lauded as Canada’s next big director. “You cannot compare these two films; they’re so fucking different. How can we compare and say that this one is inferior to that one?” The conversation had certainly gotten somewhat heated at this time but it was pretty obvious from where I was sitting that none of this rant was directed at me, but more so at the sky, as if he has been cursed undeservedly. I half expected him to raise his fists in the air in anger.
“I believe it can be inferior in the sense that the emotions it provokes are not as intense as in I KILLED MY MOTHER but it was not my mandate, nor my mission, nor my intention to provoke a torrent of emotions in you for this film.”
Intentions aside, HEARTBEATS did stir plenty of things in me. Dolan plays Francis and one night, both he and his friend Marie (Monia Chokri) fall for the same young man, Nicolas (Niels Schneider). Francis and Marie, two pseudo intellectual, neo-hipsters in Montreal, proceed to lose their senses while they pursue a boy who has done nothing to suggest he feels the same way as they do. While their motivations are calculated and controlled, the fury they are both experiencing internally is something anyone who has ever been in love can identify with. Cold on the surface does not mean empty on the inside.
“It is a movie about the various steps of the love downfall,” Dolan proclaims, without necessarily seeing what a downer his statement truly is. “It is literally a condensed journey through typical, impossible love.” The kind of love Dolan is talking about, the same kind of love that comes across on screen, isn’t real but rather imagined (which is more evident in the film’s original French title, which directly translates to “Imagined Loves”).“The movie ought to be as shallow and as empty as the encounter they have.” HEARTBEATS does just this but it does so with sumptuous imagery and romantic grandness. It is a farce after all.
As private as it could be, I can’t help but ask at this point if, when it comes to love in his own life, Dolan is still hopeful. “Unfortunately, I would say I’m an optimist,” he begins. I wasn’t sure whether he had said “fortunately” or “unfortunately” so he clarifies that he said the latter and explains, “This implies a certain amount of pain, but I’m always up for the challenge.”
I admire Dolan. Both of his films, regardless of how they compare with each other, are devoid of ego, an incredible accomplishment considering he wrote them both, directed them both and stars in both of them as well. His choices in all three of his roles on each film could easily serve his own self-interests, but instead serve only the story and the overall success of the film itself. This requires skill and dedication that I would never imagine a 21-year-old to have but yet here we are. And at 21, he has also learned a couple of other hard lessons he didn’t need to know right away. He now knows how it feels to be criticized on an international level and he clearly knows a thing or two about love.
is the perfect second film for me to have made. It’s a different film, different vibe, different emotions. Some people will say there are no emotions in HEARTBEATS
. I am not one of them.”
And neither am I.