Xavier Dolan has always lived at full speed. He debuted at the age of 19, with a film that was lauded at Cannes, and all the doors in the genre of films d’auteur were opened for him. He made eight films in a decade with which he imposed his own language, a mannerist and histrionic cinema that rehabilitated the quirkiness of nineties music videos: saturated colors, idle images, and Céline Dion songs sung as if they were national anthems. He did not stop himself entering into the darkest of the human condition, into the murkiest families, the most toxic friendships and loves lived like terminal illnesses.
And now, at the tender age of 34, Dolan is retiring. “I’m resigning from filmmaking and directing,” he says about his unexpected early retirement. “I no longer have the desire or the strength to commit two years to a project and then have almost no one see it. I put too much passion into it to be so disappointed. It makes me wonder if my cinema is bad, and I know it’s not.” Before hanging up his hat, he filmed his first series, The Night Logan Woke Up, which has just been released on Filmin. His new work is a thriller, a psychological thriller about a family divided by a tragic event that happened 30 years ago, who reunite to mourn their dead mother. A politician at the time of the Quebec referendum, she had to interrupt her career due to this family event.
There will be no more films or videos for Adele. Dolan will limit himself to advertising. “I’ll shoot an English-language series for HBO that I committed to before the pandemic and then I’ll quit,” the director says.
Despite the international renown of its director, it will only be seen in four countries: his native Canada, France, Japan and Spain. “Why hasn’t anyone else bought it? Because it was shot in French? Because it has only five episodes?” he wonders. “I didn’t earn anything from the series. I invested my salary in the production and my father had to lend me money. It is a very thankless process, I am tired and disheartened. The simplest solution is to direct commercials and build myself a house in the country.” That is what his plan is. He will also no longer shoot music videos for Adele. “I’ve already made two, I think that’s enough. Hayao Miyazaki says that filmmaking only gives you suffering. I can confirm that. Although he still has one last roll of the dice. “Before the pandemic I committed to shooting a series in English with HBO, which is still in an embryonic state. I’m going to keep my word and then I’ll quit.”
His latest project opens with the death of the oppressive matriarch, a classic figure in his cinema. His first film was called I Killed My Mother. There are plenty more examples in the rest of his filmography, which includes titles such as Heartbeats, Laurence Anyways, Mommy, and It’s Only the End of the World. “I think it’s anecdotal, my films are not just about that,” the director protests. He doesn’t like the comparisons with Pedro Almodóvar either, which he finds reductive and a bit homophobic. It is said that Dolan makes women’s films, even though he has also talked about men. His new series is the best example of this: at the center of the story are three brothers and the best friend of one of them, examples of fragile and toxic masculinity. “I’m interested in filming men with inner dilemmas, who are a bit monstrous, fighting their demons. They express themselves with verbal and often physical violence,” he acknowledges. “They hide a deep crack and a great need to be loved. Life has wounded them and they wound themselves. They don’t love themselves, so they don’t know how to love either.”
Dolan does not believe that these old-fashioned men are on the verge of extinction, despite social changes. “I’m very afraid, increasingly so, of men’s violence, because I don’t know how to calm it down,” says the director whose films tend to talk about the rejection of homosexuality. “When I see bearded men protesting outside a California school against the teaching of LGBTQI+ history, it looks like an end-of-the-world image to me. I am afraid of a civil war stoked by intolerance, by the fear of the difference we represent. They are convinced that we want to subjugate them, when we have no desire to dominate anyone. Our aspiration is to live and let live.”
“Seeing protests against the LGBTQI+ community seems to me like an image from the end of the world. They think we want to subjugate them when we have no desire to dominate anyone.”
Dolan’s farewell responds to a clear disenchantment. It looked like he was going to take the world by storm, but his rise to glory was halted by the failure of My Life With John F. Donovan, his failed English-language debut, which stars Kit Harington, Natalie Portman, and Susan Sarandon (plus Jessica Chastain, who was cut in the editing). After a long gestation period, the project got out of hand. “It’s a film I like, although I wasn’t able to go as deep as I would have liked, for reasons that are better for the public not to know,” he says. He then returned to his native Quebec, where he shot a more modest film, Matthias & Maxime, and then this series, with which he has returned to his first love: television.
“[Television] series were my first contact with the art of storytelling. I am the son of a single mother who watched Canadian soap operas non-stop. As a teenager, I took refuge in American series on the WB channel, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville, Roswell and Charmed, all dubbed in French, and then I became fond of HBO series like The Sopranos and Six Feet Under, which this series pays homage to,” he says. The Night Logan Woke Up reclaims the television format of another era, from the simple subplots to the penchant for cliffhanger endings, which Dolan assumes without any irony. “Unlike other directors, I didn’t want to make a series that looked like a movie. What I wanted to make was good television,” he says. It’s a good way to close the circle: to back to where it all started.
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