Pushing Boundaries: Composition in the Films of Xavier Dolan

The young director and the use of space to reveal character and narrative.

You can tell an awful lot about a filmmaker by their composition and the degree to which they utilize it as a narrative instigator or revealer of character. Some directors stop at blocking, using composition as a practical tool, while others see it as a tool for creative ends, another level on which to relay their meanings and messages. In the instance of these latter sort of filmmakers, it isn’t just the space within the frame that’s important, but the myriad spaces between the various figures and objects in the frame as well. A character framed in front of a picture of a peaceful meadow on a sunny day conveys different meaning than that same character framed with a mounted animal head behind them, and two characters standing with an inch between them says something different about them as individuals and members of a relationship than two characters standing with ten feet between them.

In the films of French-Canadian prodigy Xavier Dolan, composition is not just a means by which to import order and structure to his visual landscapes, it is also a gauge for measuring the emotional distance between characters within his films, and also between characters and we of the audience. The closer they are composed within the frame, the closer we are to them, empathetically, and the closer we are to being on the inside of their dynamic as active engagers instead of passive observers. Centered, off-centered, alone, in pairs or more, the characters within Dolan’s composition are themselves the frames of the minor worlds within the major world of his films, and his particular sort of framing is how he establishes the niches within his niche.

In the latest video from Sharon Lopez, the composition of Xavier Dolan across five of his films – I Killed My Mother, Heartbeats, Laurence Anyways, Tom at the Farm, and Mommy – has been collected in one succinct comparison that reveals, besides how Dolan crafts his filmic worlds, how he emotionally seduces his audience using not just imagery but the spaces within and between said imagery as well.