MONTREAL — To say Xavier Dolan stands out in the buttoned-down milieu of Canadian film is an understatement.
All three of the 23-year-old filmmaker’s efforts have played on the Croisette, either in Directors’ Fortnight or Un Certain Regard. This year, his latest, most expensive and ambitious film, the 159-minute “Laurence Anyways,” was slotted in the latter category. The pic chronicles a tumultuous 1990’s love affair between Laurence (Gallic thesp Melvil Poupaud) and Fred (Quebec actress Suzanne Clement); early in the film, Laurence decides he wants to become a woman.
But even though his film earned a coveted berth, Dolan complained publicly over not being selected for an even more prestigious competition slot, and was slammed by fellow filmmakers for doing so. Never one to be shy, Dolan says he has a right to be upset.
“I don’t think I’m being ungrateful to the festival, I’m just being honest,” he says. “I understand that people wait their whole lives for Cannes and don’t ever qualify for it. And I respect these people. (But) I think age has nothing to do with whether a film warrants being in the official competition or not. Since I was 15, I decided I wouldn’t feel lucky to be at Cannes. Cannes is not the result of any sort of chance. Cannes is a reward.”
Dolan’s self-confidence is nothing if not consistent. When he was writing his first film, “I Killed My Mother,” the 17-year-old would tell anyone who would listen that he’d be taking the pic to Cannes. Most figured the precocious teenager would soon discover the brutal reality of the dog-eat-dog film biz.
Though he was turned down by federal funder Telefilm Canada, he made “Mother” — about a teen, played by Dolan, having an angst-ridden battle with his mom — mostly with money he had earned as a child actor. The pic was selected to play the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes, and scored well at the Quebec box office.
Dolan was back at Cannes, in Un Certain Regard, with his stylish sophomore feature “Heartbeats” in 2010. “Laurence Anyways,” produced by Montrealer Lyse Lafontaine and French producers Nathanael Karmitz and Charles Gilbert, launched in Quebec on May 18, the same day it unspooled at Cannes. It opens July 16 in France.
Lafontaine thinks Dolan’s chutzpah is a plus.
“I don’t think his ambition comes from an oversized ego,” Lafontaine says. “You don’t succeed internationally if you don’t have ambition.”