Not just a pretty face.
It’s risky business being a Canadian child actor. Only a handful become the Corey Haims or Ryan Goslings of this cruel world, and the rest probably end up somewhere between Alanis Morissette and alcoholism. Xavier Dolan, however, is thankfully the latest ex-child actor to join the ‘Cool even though I am Canadian’ crew.
By the age of 21 Dolan has not only written and directed, but also acted in, dressed and financed two feature films which I was fortunate enough to catch at the last two BFI London Film Festivals: J’ai Tué Ma Mere(I Killed My Mother) in 2009 and Les Amours Imaginaires (strangely translated as Heartbeats) this year.
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Both films have a semi-autographical feel, addressing how a fresh-out-of-the-closet homosexual teenager struggles to relate to the females closest to him. Rather than avoiding the clichés and stereotypes of teen flicks, Dolan’s films thoroughly embrace them, just as they do kitsch props and quirky costumes. His characters thus seem both fantastical and familiar, and the plots seem fictional but remarkably believable: in I Killed My Mother his teacher is the attractive Mathilda’s Miss Honey-esque teacher who writes him intimate letters and gets a bit more attached than is appropriate; his mother has a spectacularly humiliating wardrobe and an obsession with leopard print furnishings and fake tan; and the apples of his eye just happen to look like Grecian gods, complete with chiseled cheekbones and tousled ‘touch-me’ hair.
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Although at times his plots and scripts verge on immaturity with teenage crushes, tussles and tantrums, they are balanced by the elegance of the cinematography and the graceful portraiture. The smoothly confident path of the camera absorbs explosions of colour and confronts the characters from all angles: birds eye view shots on perfect coiffures; stalker-like pursuits trailing voyeuristically from behind; seductive slow motion scans that seem almost hypnotised by the characters.Many of the scenes surrender to their incredible soundtracks, all movement decelerated to match the eerie beats of songs by The Knife, Crystal Castles and Noir Désir’s Vive La Fête. The ugly thuds and cries of a fight scene in Heartbeats are muted by Dalida’s sultry Italian croon of ‘Bang Bang’ , transforming violence into an effortlessly choreographed and colourful scuffle amidst autumn leaves.
Xavier Dolan’s first two films are great but by no means are they masterpieces, and that’s okay (as they probably contain some of the best knitwear on screen). At just 21 years old, Dolan is certainly one to watch and I am counting down the days until the next installment.