(Originally posted at CineVue)
Piecing together the impressive first three films in what will undeniably become an illustrious and bountiful career, La Folie d’Amour: The Xavier Dolan Collection offers the chance to experience the work of precocious enfante terrible and Québécois hotshot Xavier Dolan. The writer, director, producer, sometimes actor and editor of his projects, with stakes in their respective art and costume departments, Dolan has done what few contemporary filmmakers succeed at: establishing at an incredibly early age deeply idiosyncratic –not to mention exhaustively prolific – auteurist sensibilities saturated by raw and deeply felt story’s and subject matters.
His cinema is founded on stylised melodrama that is, itself, derived from topics ranging from maternal unrest, the complications that arise from unrequited love, transvestism in the daring new world of the ‘90s, and everything that lays, posturing, in between. The first rung on his rapidly ascending cinematic career is I Killed My Mother (J‘ai tué ma mère) (2009), an impeccably focused and confident debut that plants the seeds of Dolan’s strong awareness of the filmic balance between style and substance. Based on a semi-autobiographical screenplay Dolan wrote at 16 years of age, the film depicts the turbulent relationship between a teenager, Hubert (played by Dolan), and his mother, astonishingly played by Anne Dorval, who he believes isn’t a suitable presence in his life. It’s a schizophrenic blend of love and hate made all the more strained by his burgeoning adolescence and the homosexuality he keeps a secret from her, a secret than manifests in a number of emotionally calculating ways.
His sophomore outing, Heartbeats (2010), is an equally flowing but slightly less engrossing tale of doomed fixations and stifled lust; something of an inversion of Francois Truffaut’s Jules et Jim (1962). Dolan plays Francis, whose close friendship with fellow hipster Marie (Monia Chokri) is severely tested when they meet Nicolas (Niels Schneider), a sexually ambivalent country boy who becomes an object of intense desire between the two friends. A complex psychological ménage a trois ensues, with Nicholas’ subtle manipulations leading Francis and Marie into an obsessive and ultimately tragic frenzy.
Whatever lack of deep characterisation there is in Heartbeats is made up for in Laurence Anyways (2012), his most sprawling and flamboyant film to date; a lavishly budgeted passion project that houses a palpable examination of sexual identity under its broad 160-minute runtime. Melvil Poupaud plays Laurence, an outwardly composed and intelligent high school teacher who reveals to his girlfriend (the superb Suzanne Clément) that he wishes to embrace the woman he was born to be. Chronicling their blustery, decade long relationship, the film matches handsomely messy cinematic decadence with a vivid evocation of the 1990s conveyed through impeccably rendered fashion and music, with some scenes actually slowing down to accommodate the elegance of catwalk euphoria. It is plodding but ultimately beautiful and rewarding, and is analogous of Dolan’s ambitious, fluid and perfectly coiffed career thus far.