Q&A with Xavier Dolan: “My film is not homework that a critic should correct”

Q&A with Xavier Dolan: “My film is not homework that a critic should correct”

Xavier Dolan arrives at the gala premiere of Heartbeats at the Varsity Cinemas (Image: Jag Gundu/Getty Images) 

Xavier Dolan doesn’t want to lie, but he also doesn’t want to tell the truth. The 21-year-old director with the Eraserhead hair—a breakout talent at TIFF last year with his French-language debut I Killed My Mother (J’ai tué ma mère)—bristles when asked how he knows real-life friends Niels Schneider and Monia Chokri. The Québécois actors form the other two points of a love triangle, alongside Dolan, in his swooning sophomore film Heartbeats (Les amours imaginaires). “Can we just…no?” he asks. “Can I say no?”

In the film, a sexually ambiguous himbo (Schneider) drives a wedge between Dolan’s jaded gay guy Francis and Chokri’s poised Marie. Dolan wrote the script with the actors in mind; however, they’re not joining him in Toronto for the screening. The only explanation for their absence: “They weren’t invited.”

The other issue irking Dolan as he navigates a maze of interviews in the Hotel Intercontinental on Tuesday is that comparisons are being drawn between the dreamy style of Heartbeats—slow-mo shots are a running theme—and the work of other filmmakers (the Toronto Star cited Wong Kar-Wai). “What I tried to do is a movie that would look like the love at the centre of this film,” he says. “Which is a shallow and beautiful love, but it’s empty and has no depth and no substance.”

Despite the raves over I Killed My Mother and positive reviews for Heartbeats, Dolan hasn’t stopped second-guessing himself. “I don’t really have confidence,” he says. “I have confidence, but I doubt always, of my scripts, of my films, of my ideas. Hopefully I have people around me to comfort and counsel and guide me.”

Paradoxically, he could also care less about public opinion (the Quebec press is quick to describe him as its enfant terrible). “My film is not homework that a critic should correct,” he says. “It is a movie that can establish a connection with one’s past and own frustrated loves, and if people are not sensitive to these kinds of things, they just shouldn’t watch the films.”