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Xavier Dolan Talks ‘Laurence Anyways,’ His Prolific Career & His Upcoming Psychological Thriller ‘Tom a la Ferme’

The Playlist By Charlie Schmidlin | The Playlist November 26, 2012 at 1:23PM

Three service elevators, two stairwells, and one cautious yet friendly hotel employee later, Xavier Dolan locates what he and his “Laurence Anyways” actress and friend Suzanne Clément discovered the previous afternoon: A barren hotel floor halted mid-renovation, drenched in sunlight amidst stripped columns and walls, and a cloud of dust lifted with every step through it. “This floor technically doesn’t exist, if you just use the main elevators,” notes the 23-year-old director of “J'ai Tué Ma Mere (I Killed My Mother)” and “Heartbeats” as we wander around the space.
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Laurence Anyways

Luckily, within these scenes contain the revelatory, explosive performances of Poupaud and Clément at the film’s center. As Laurence, Poupaud – a tremendous actor in both Raul Ruiz and François Ozon’s work – faced an almost instantaneous immersion into the film’s demanding role after Dolan’s initial choice of Louis Garrel fell through. “He came in two weeks before, and had almost no time to -- I mean, we did fittings, did costumes, waxed his chest, and a couple days later we were shooting,” says Dolan. “Melvil is a very courageous man, and not afraid to give you what you want. He’s aware of the fact too, that you might not be satisfied with what he's giving you, and willing to try over and over again to correct that.”

He also praises Clément, the Cannes award winner for Best Actress with whom he’s shared a close bond since his first film, where she played the schoolteacher role to Dolan’s teenage character. She first fielded the script seeds of 'Laurence' back then, and she’s contributed to Dolan’s work as alongside helping him personally. “It's a lot of focus and work and Suzanne has been witness to that. She's seen the script change but she's seen me change as well. I know what I want more, and how to fight for it. I don't want people to be abusive. I’m able to protect myself more.” And on the matter of protection, we return to Dolan’s Cannes controversy, ignited over such a seemingly minute choice of words. After having both of his previous films debut at the festival, first in the Directors’ Fortnight and then in Un Certain Regard, it seemed for Dolan a natural advancement for 'Laurence' to appear In Competition.

Laurence Anyways

“I would read every morning on every blog that I was there, that I was sure to be there, and I didn't believe it because these things were rumors and speculation, but -- yes. When we heard that we were not in Official Competition, I was sad and disappointed, and who exactly wouldn't be? What sort of person wouldn’t be? All I said was I’m disappointed because the film is an ambitious work; whether people hate it or love it, it feels like it could be competing in something, even if its a piece of shit. It's as if, as a journalist, you're going to Cannes. But oh wait, you're not going. Actually it's the Calgary Film Festival instead. That's what you're going to cover. And if you dare say you're disappointed..."

He pauses a moment, before continuing, “I'm not a machine and I don't know what to say and when to say it – or maybe I do. There was a response from Cannes that I felt was perhaps destined for me to read, where [Festival Director] Thierry Fremont said, ‘We appreciate that filmmakers express their disappointment or angst when they're not selected, because for us, it means we have invited filmmakers who believe in their work.’ I mean… I have a lot of doubts, I have my fears and interrogations every day, but I have faith in my work, and in myself, and in the goals that I've chosen.”

Laurence Anyways

Next in line for those goals is indeed another ambitious undertaking: “Ordinary People,” a hexalogue which Dolan describes as “the story of a family of heirs. They’re hour-long films that we're going to release in cinemas.” He continues, “We might release them one by one, two by two; we're still conferring on exactly how to do it.” Aside from that project, which is still in the script stage, Dolan has also just completed his fourth film two weeks prior. An adaptation of Michel Marc Bouchard’s stage play “Tom à la Ferme,” the psychological thriller toplines “Heartbeats” actor Eric Bruneau in the titular role and concerns his dangerous dynamic with the family of his deceased lover (played by Dolan) when their relationship is revealed. “Antiviral” star Caleb Landry Jones also recently came on board, but Dolan plays down his involvement, saying, “He's got such a small role. I don't know how that leaked, and it was fun working with him, but he has such a miniscule part.”

Dolan describes the film as “[Sartre’s play] 'No Exit' in a kitchen, and also a barn. We get out of there, like, only three or four times. It’s the opportunity to try something else. A film about the ever-growing gap between province and the city. It’s worrying, it’s gory…not that we want it to be, but because it requires it. It all happens in the country, so the décor is just… ordinary. 2000-ish, the period of no taste. A mix and match of no ideas and weird transitioning, There’s no indulging into, ‘Oh, here are people from the middle-class world, and here is some artwork from Urban Outfitters…’ No, they don’t have access to any of this. I’m from the country originally, so I don’t think that it’s funny to make people look like rednecks,” he grins. “Even if there are quite a few out there.”

“I don’t know what [the English-language version] is going to be called though -- this is such a mess, finding this title -- and I’ve always loved finding titles before, but this time the process is not hospitable.” Dolan then bursts forth with a half-dozen different titles, testing and re-organizing with each new draft before selecting two titles from the batch, and Poupaud’s previous account of Dolan as one who can adapt easily and “sell it to you with complete passion, always,” comes immediately to mind.

Simply from this brief devotion to basic syntax, it’s abundantly clear the filmmaking process indeed remains singular in Dolan’s life, as does the film set represent, he says, “really the only place where I feel safe and secure.” As we then circle back one final time around the hotel floor, taking note of a wall and mirror with “HELP ME” and “STAY” humorously scrawled in graffiti, he seems primed to remain in that mindset. “[When] I'm working with Suzanne and Melvil, my friends and when I'm editing the film and working with Olivier Goinard -- who’s my mixer in Paris, and such a creative guy,” he explains, “When I'm doing these things I'm not doing a job, I feel like I'm living my life, I feel like I'm creating something, and then afterwards, it's all ‘funny voices.’ ” And with that, Dolan excuses himself towards the service elevator -- he’s being called away to speak to more across town.

"Laurence Anyways" will be released in the U.S. in 2013 via Breaking Glass. It is now available on DVD and Blu-ray in Canada.

This article is related to: Xavier Dolan, Laurence Anyways, Tom at the Farm , Ordinary People, Interviews


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