In line with LGBTQ+ History Month, Roar writer Joseph Israel discusses the director Xavier Dolan and his films.
Although Xavier Dolan has been criticised for his comments on the Queer Palm where he was awarded for “Laurence Anyways” (2012), a prize he found ghettoising and ostracising, we cannot deny him his commitment and the vehemence with which he strives to represent the struggle – internal and external – experienced by the members of the LGBT+ community. Indeed, when it comes to love, friendship, and LGBT+, he is a director that cannot be overlooked. There is no need to recall the genius of the UFO that is Xavier Dolan, his versatility, his creative and revealing passion which since 2009 (the year of the release of “I Killed My Mother”) have propelled him to Cannes every time one of his films was released. What is important in this LGBT+ History Month is to recall the sensitivity and the precision with which Xavier Dolan manages to transcribe the meanders of identity crises; the collisions of minds, of characters; the tacit, underlying dialogues, whether with oneself or with others.
What often strikes in Dolan’s work is the expressive power of play, the accuracy of the emotion, experienced by both the actor and the viewer. What is praiseworthy is first and foremost the truthfulness of the narration. It is not only a question of telling, but also of showing – really showing. Sometimes homosexuality is romanticised, idealised or stereotyped: the “sissy” in Hollywood’s early years in “The Children’s Hour” (1961), or more recently in “Call Me by Your Name” (2017). In Xavier Dolan’s work, the queer person is not reduced to their sexual identity. The director of “Mommy” (2014) is also inspired by his personal life; he admits that he has already been the victim of homophobic assaults, which inspired scenes from “I Killed My Mother” (2009), and most likely “Laurence Anyways” as well. In the latter, Laurence (played by Melvil Poupaud) is a college literature professor who can no longer bear to wake up in a body that does not correspond to his identity. Beginning her transition, Laurence puts on make-up and wears suits and heels. One day, while having a drink in a bar, she is subjected to inappropriate glances from a man leaning against the bar and fights violently with him. Tension, fear, and confusion reign over Laurence, who strikes first. The silence of the scene, the encrustation of Laurence’s irregular breathing, the softness of the slow-motion coupled with the subdued light of the bar invite the spectator to perceive the jousting beyond the violence it implies. Indeed, it is about more than that: the violence that tears Laurence apart is a consequence of the feeling of vulnerability so rightly transcribed. Nevertheless, this acuity does not make Dolan solely a social or naturalist filmmaker, as it is only partially constitutive of the power emanating from his films.
Much more than austere depictions of a depressing and flat reality, his films are often tinged with madness, and to better explain this ambivalence, the form is very finely crafted to reflect the content. In “Laurence Anyways,” each passage (or era, period) of Laurence’s life is reflected and adapted to her state, as well as to that of the narrative; the predominant colours of the sets change as the situation evolves. Very simple, fixed shots are followed by shots of undeniable cinematographic complexity, sometimes completely whimsical. So in “Laurence Anyways,” we move from a brown and yellowish kitchen to a colourful ball, or to the scene of the rains of linen falling from the sky that appears on the poster. The shock this ambivalence provokes is the manifestation of the passionate madness that so often animates the characters in Dolan’s films, jostled uncontrollably between torment, hatred, tenderness and ardent love.
The rhythm of the film is absolutely crazy, erratic, tormenting and tormented; it is exactly that human madness that shapes the relationships between the characters in Dolan’s films. In “Mathias and Maxime” (2019), we witness a love story that turns out awkwardly between two childhood friends, unable to explain the contradictory desires and passions that animate them. This film form emphasises the stinging reality of the violence and emotional chaos of human relationships, but also the madness of love. While some scenes depict unbearable tension, others bear witness to the intoxication of bodies, self-abandonment and love. Xavier Dolan places love and its ambiguities at the centre of the relationships between his characters. Love and friendship bring together all the sentimental and emotional human paradoxes previously discussed, and their destructive nature demonstrates Dolan’s attention to the meanders of romance.
Watching and rewatching Xavier Dolan is always a slap in the face: letting oneself be totally guided by his creative power, inconsistently tossing between reality and dreamlike representation, fantasising about passionate drunkenness. Xavier Dolan deals with the internal, intimate and personal movements of homosexuality, sexual identity and gender as manifestations revealed through social interaction with an acuity never seen before.