THE BLACK SHEEP INTERVIEW: XAVIER DOLAN (TOM AT THE FARM) Xavier at the Farm
An interview with TOM AT THE FARM writer/director, Xavier Dolan
The first time I interviewed Quebec filmmaker, Xavier Dolan (24), it did not go as I had hoped. I was an admirer of his work, still am, and I expected that he and I would sit down and chat fondly about how talented he is. Instead, Dolan came across as somewhat defensive, perhaps because his second film, HEARTBEATS, was not as well received as his breakthrough feature, I KILLED MY MOTHER. Three years and two more films later, we met again. This time, Dolan was a perfect gentleman, cordial and inviting. And when you see his latest feature, TOM AT THE FARM, you will understand why he’s in such a good mood.
TOM AT THE FARM is Dolan’s follow-up to last year’s epic, LAURENCE ANYWAYS, and his first feature to be based on previously published material (the Michel-Marc Bouchard play, Tom a la ferme). It also marks a distinctive departure in style for the prolific filmmaker. “The idea wasn’t that I was going to direct a psychological thriller but do it my way,” Dolan tells me when we meet at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the film is making its second festival stop after a great reception in Venice. “If I’m going to go into that and explore that genre, I’m going to go all the way, but I’m going to go the right way. I don’t want people to think I’m not able to do it.”
Personally, while I did thoroughly enjoy the grittier, dirtier approach Dolan adopted with TOM AT THE FARM, I’ve always been a fan of his style. He has been criticized in the past for perhaps taking his style too far though. Meanwhile, all Dolan is interested in is doing the story itself justice. “I’m not obsessed with things looking like my stuff or doing my schtick. I’m obsessed with doing the movie, the style, that’s most compatible with what the story is calling for,” he explains. The experiment has paid off and you can tell he is quite relieved. “There was a huge part of me that I had to leave behind and restrain in terms of style and aesthetics. That was a cool challenge.”
As different stylistically as the film can be at times, it still features a fair amount of dialogue that is reminiscent of his previous work. Only this time, a good chunk of that dialogue wasn’t his to begin with. “The best part about writing a movie for me is dialogue. That’s what I like the most,” Dolan exclaims. He goes on to credit the original source, “Michel Marc’s dialogue is exquisite most of the time. His words are humane and sincere and funny and cocky. It’s just the type of dialogue that I like.”
TOM AT THE FARM tells the story of a young man named Tom, played by Dolan himself, who leaves the city for the farm where his recently deceased boyfriend grew up, so that he might attend the funeral and finally meet his former lover’s mother, played in the film by Lise Roy. There he finds a brother that he never knew his boyfriend even had, named Francis, played by Pierre-Yves Cardinal. Francis is complicated, to say the least, and he proceeds to make Tom’s stay painfully uncomfortable. Their relationship was a major draw for Dolan.
“It’s about understanding people. Tom is a wounded animal and Francis is another sort of wounded animal,” Dolan describes. When he does so, it is apparent how connected he feels to this material. “Francis has been alone his entire life, has known nothing but the farm. He’s the man of the house, works the land all day. He’s not been looked at for years. Tom is equally wounded, from the city, where you find similar loneliness – where it’s not the same, you don’t feel it the same way, but it can be just as striking.”
It is this loneliness that Dolan feels propels the characters to make the desperate choices that they make during their time together at the farm. “I think that loneliness forces human beings to rely on rather animalistic instincts and behaviours, seeing their more human side fading away with time,” Dolan confides in a way that makes me wonder if he knows a thing or two about loneliness as well. “Both are trying to fill a common void, in each his own way and their own specific way to do so.”
All in all, a much better chat all around. Dolan was charming and obviously enjoying himself in general. There was one final thing that stuck with me after our interview was over. Speaking again of his character Tom’s experience, he said, “Tom, guilt tripped by the death of his lover, whom he sees in Francis, I think wants to subscribe to that abuse because he feels he deserves to be punished. This grieving process will help Tom redefine who he is.”
And I think TOM AT THE FARM will do similar things as far as redefining who Dolan is.