Xavier Dolan’s “Tom at the Farm” opened to strong reviews at the Venice Film Festival two years ago and picked up distribution in roughly 40 countries. But it never found a buyer in the United States until recently, when Amplify Releasing set the French-language thriller to open today in theaters and on VOD. “Tom” follows a young Montreal man (Dolan) who travels to rural Canada for his ex-boyfriend’s funeral.
Dolan’s profile has been on the rise since 2014’s “Mommy,” which won the jury prize at Cannes for the Quebecois director. He returned in May to the Croisette, where he served on the Cannes jury; recently finished filming “It’s Only the End of the World,” starring Marion Cotillard; and is about to start production on his first English-language film, “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan,” about a closeted Hollywood movie star played by Kit Harington.
Dolan, 26, spoke to Variety about his projects, why “Tom at the Farm” was delayed and Hollywood’s diversity problem.
Were you surprised that “Tom and the Farm” never landed U.S. distribution?
It’s weird, because it’s my movie. I thought to myself, “You don’t have the perspective to judge where it’s normal or abnormal when people don’t buy it.” I sort of sucked it up, but I was confused.
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It got good reviews.
It’s not really about reviews. It’s a short genre movie. It’s not embarrassingly gay. I wouldn’t call it a queer movie. It’s just a thriller. I think it’s a little creepy. I thought people liked that. Everyone was coming to me and saying, “Why isn’t this released?” And at one point, it had been so long, distributors who hadn’t passed took for granted it had been bought and went straight to VOD.
This was the first time you directed a movie that you didn’t write.
It was absolutely liberating to direct someone’s work. I have struggles in screenwriting that lead me to a third act that’s always more or less efficiently wrapped up in a fourth act that’s trying to give closure to too many things. Then I end up in the editing suite, and I realize that I’m f—ed. That I don’t have what it takes. That I have too much or I have to remodel everything.
The house that Tom visits is No. 69.
It’s a movie about inverted positions, roles and worlds.
Do you feel like your career trajectory has changed since “Mommy”?
Yes, in all possible ways. It changed my approach to filmmaking and how I see filmmaking. There’s a core group of people I always worked with since “I Killed Your Mother.” With “Mommy,” it just confirmed many bonds that were already strong.
Are you interested in making big studio movies?
What about a superhero movie?
Have you talked to Marvel?
We are touching base with certain — let’s say — people who are involved making that type of machinery.
Do you think Hollywood will ever make a gay superhero movie?
Because it doesn’t want that. It answers to the rules of the market, and will never take that sort of risk. Well, at least not if it encompasses losing money, and how would it not? I’m not telling you what would be. I’m telling you in my not-so-humble opinion, I don’t believe that’s something Hollywood is capable of.
But don’t you think there’s an audience?
The market is ready for much more than what Hollywood thinks it’s ready for. That’s the point of view of a complete foreigner who has no experience in Hollywood. This discourse might seem very naïve, but I don’t care. I wrote a movie about that. This is what “John F. Donovan” is about. It’s a movie that apes the tropes of a superhero flick, and talks about an actor who is outed by a magazine. The movie is about the place this business gives to diversity.
There’s been a lot of criticism in the last year about Hollywood’s lack of diversity in front of and behind the camera.
Think about the place of any divergent or idiosyncratic voice. By idiosyncratic, I mean plainly not normal. It’s always secondary. It’s always independent. Why is diversity only in the independent scene? Why can’t it be featured in these movies we’re talking about? Because the public will laugh at them? Because the public is not ready? Because the public hates gays, like God, I assume? Those hardships have been hindering our progress to a more diverse, more elevated sort of filmmaking. Life is changing around Hollywood, and it seems like Hollywood is not living life. Am I talking s— right now?
A little bit. But so is everyone else. There’s frustration with executives making these decisions and greenlighting films. Maybe there needs to be more diversity at the studio level.
But there is. At lunch or in their living rooms or at those pool parties. Homosexuality is like an inside baseball thing. It’s like a gag that people share; “How is your husband?” But when it comes to bringing diversity to a broader audience, suddenly it’s a different road. It’s what we call “a risk.” Isn’t it our responsibility to elevate the standards and change people’s perceptions? If the image we are setting constantly mirrors those very common standards, we are also not inspiring an entire generation and entire nations to make the leap towards acceptance and open-mindedness. This is the importance of making movies. This is not only entertainment. It goes way beyond that.
Have you always wanted to make the leap to making movies in English?
Certain people think, “I’m going to go and make it in Hollywood.” That’s fine. I have nothing against money. I would like to make money one day. But this movie exists because it’s a story that has to happen in an English-speaking environment and show business. That’s the only reason why that’s my next movie. I have a ton of ideas in French coming. It’s not about making it somewhere. It’s about making it with someone. To me, the idea of success is to be able to work with people you admire.
“John F. Donovan” stars Kit Harrington. Has he told you anything about a possible return to “Game of Thrones.”
I’m not going to tell you anything. Don’t even look at me. Don’t try. Don’t! Don’t! Don’t!
Do you know the answer?
I don’t know the answer. If I knew the answer, I’d kill myself before I told you.
What was it like serving on the jury at Cannes?
It was the most extraordinary event of my entire life. To quote Dumbledore, “We might come from different countries and speak different tongues, but our hearts beat as one.” It wasn’t confrontational. It wasn’t ego-centered. It never got political. I guess I lucked out with my jurors. We were this gang. I have rarely in my life belonged to a group. I have felt in the past that I didn’t register as a relevant or accepted voice within the industry of filmmakers. When I was sitting at those dinners, those black-tie events, with mindless chatter and all those people with the f—ing swan-shaped napkins and the butter and bread, it felt like the Titanic. I was at tables and directors weren’t really talking to me. Maybe I was being paranoid. I really had the impression that I didn’t fit, and that I was somehow dismissed or mocked by my peers. I have known very moments in my life where I felt that I belonged, and that was one of them.