Xavier Dolan comes by his l’enfant terrible reputation honestly. In the course of a brief interview during the Toronto International Film Festival he mocked one of my questions, refused a snap with an intern (“All photos must be approved.”) and paused the interview midway, claiming the room was too hot to concentrate on the questions.
It becomes easy to overlook the affectations, however, when regarding his talent, which is undeniable. Last week the Best Canadian Film jury at TIFF gave him top honors, praising his movie Laurence Anyway, a three-hour epic about true love and gender, for its “breathless cinematic energy and its entirely new love story. [We] felt honoured to watch such unfettered genius at play.”
High praise indeed, but the honour also puts him in some heady company. The last two Quebec films to take home the prize—Incendies and Monsieur Lazhar—also earned Oscar nominations for best foreign language film.
He’s no stranger to the international stage. His first film as director and screenwriter, J’ai tué ma mère, won three awards at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, but this win may accelerate his plans, as he told a journalist recently, “to tackle the American beast.”
The idea for Laurence Anyways came from real life and despite the sensational aspects of the story, was always intended to be a romance.
“When I first heard the story a woman told me about her boyfriend and her having dinner and her boyfriend saying, ‘I’m a woman. I want to become a woman,’ it seemed clear to me that this would be a ten year story about people finding each other and losing each other, and love and it would center on love and nothing else.”
To make sure the audience is along for the ride Dolan takes his time setting up the characters.
“In a very technical way the first fifteen minutes are invested in establishing this story and these characters, their rituals, their weaknesses, their craziness, so that for the rest of the film we actually have the feeling that we know these characters. If we don’t know them we can’t possibly care what happens to them.”
When I tell Dolan I think Laurence Anyways is a challenging film that audiences will talk about for a long time afterward he smiles and says, “I hope that is the destiny of this film. I hope it happens that way.”