Xavier Dolan and the Persistence of Memory

By  · Published on October 28th, 2016

A look at who and what inspires the young filmmaker.

Easily one of the most interesting and dynamic young filmmakers in the world today is Xavier Dolan, French-Canadian actor-writer-director-producer-wunderkind who burst onto the scene in 2009 when he was just 20 years old with the film I Killed My Mother, which premiered in the Cannes Film Festival’s Director’s Fortnight, at which it received an eight-minute standing ovation and three awards. Since then Dolan’s star has risen at a pace that would make a young Orson Welles jealous. His second film, Heartbeats, premiered again at Cannes, but this time in the Un Certain Regard category. Next up was Laurence Anyways, which also premiered Un Certain Regard and won the Best Actress award in the category for leading lady Suzanne Clement. Tom at the Farm, Dolan’s fourth film, switched up festivals and premiered in Venice where it won the FIPRESCI award given by the International Federation of Film Critics. Yet despite all this acclaim, Dolan was a young man, and his big breakthrough was still ahead of him.

With 2014’s Mommy, Dolan merged his critical success with commercial recognition, finding a wide audience, especially in America, for the first time. The film won the Jury Prize at Cannes that year, but he had to share it with some other guy, I got his name here somewhere, hang on … Jean-Luc Godard. Yeah. Dolan was 25 at the time (the same age as Orson Welles when he released Citizen Kane).

Dolan’s sixth film It’s Only the End of the World took home the Grand Prix at Cannes and is Canada’s submission to the Academy for next year’s Best Foreign-Language Film, the third time Dolan has been so honored (or 50% of his career to date), and next on his slate is his first English-language film, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan starring Kit Harrington (Games of Thrones), Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), and Oscar winners Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking) and Kathy Bates (Misery). He’s also the guy who directed Adele’s “Hello” video.

Suffice it to say, Dolan is a filmmaker on the rise, and if you don’t know him now, you will soon enough. Part of what makes Dolan so immediately effective and unforgettable as a filmmaker is the way he blends his modern, unique voice with his more classical influences, including those who have shaped him as a storyteller – Francois Truffaut, Gus Van Sant, Greg Araki, Paul Thomas Anderson, even Chris Columbus – and those who have shaped him as a technical filmmaker – Stanley Kubrick, Andrei Tarkovsky, Alfred Hitchcock, Michelangelo Antonioni et al.

In an outstanding new video Candice Drouet, an always-outstanding editor, visually matches the influences of Xavier Dolan – not just films but in some instances visual art as well – with the director’s own work, showing just how broad and classically-informed his personal artistic education has been. There’s a saying in the literary world that if you want to succeed, you have to find your father and kill him; that is, you have to identify the type of writer you want to be, learn from the best example of that kind of writer, then use what you learned to try and best them. Dolan would seem to know this concept quite well, and would seem to be on a figurative spree in his quest to enter the canon of those who creatively raised him. He did name that first film I Killed My Mother, after all.

There are no spoilers here, only beautiful imagery, so if you aren’t familiar with the work of Xavier Dolan, please take a minute to get so. It’s worth every frame.

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist