DVD La Folie d’Amour: The Xavier Dolan Collection
Xavier Dolan is Canada’s virtuoso filmmaker; his critically acclaimed directorial debut, I Killed My Mother (2009), appeared on the international cinema stage at his tender age of 20. By 2013, aged still only 23, Dolan had completed a further two in his La Folie d’Amour trilogy: Heartbeats (2010) and Laurence Anyways (2012). No mean feat for one so young. Particularly when one considers the attention he has received at international film festivals (Heartbeats won top prize at the Sydney Film Festival) and the relative lauding he has received from critics.
It is difficult to effectively summarize the turn of events across the three films, but essentially the theme is this: love is an onerous undertaking. In the first outing, I Killed My Mother, Dolan himself plays a Hubert, a lad just pulling out from the flushes of adolescence, having to ‘deal’ with an ambiguous figure of mother, Chantale (Anne Dorval), with whom he can do nothing with but hate.
In the second, Heartbeats, Dolan plays Francis, friends with an evocatively beautiful Marie (Monia Chokri). Despite both their youthful, camp glamour they fall inexplicably in love with the sandwiched-faced and enigmatic (perhaps that’s it) lothario Nicolas (Niels Schneider), whom they meet at a party. Invariably this affection-competition slashes the tires of their previously tight-knit friendship.
The third in the series, and by far the most exhaustive in its theme (almost reaching three hours in duration), is Laurence Anyways. Although there is a strong, queer undercurrent within the previous two films, here Dolan deals with issues of sexuality and gender head on. Laurence (Melvil Poupaud), in animated fashion, confesses to his love folly, Fred (Suzanne Clement), that he is a woman wrapped in the body of a man. Although always carrying a conflict, the bottled-redhead Fred decides that love is transcendent. It will override the animosity and revulsion of those around them, and it will override her heterosexuality…
Dolan’s films, although most spiritedly facing the sexual and gendered self, are in essence questioning what it means to be. Although his debut, I Killed My Mother is clearly a film made with some proficiency – ricocheting as it does from a naturalistic to a colourful MTV style, it threatens to overburden the spectator with a ritualistic, teenage angst.
Laurence Always poses a challenge to traditional notions of femininity as a masquerade.
Dolan’s film is a long and almost pious wail about the supposed inadequacies of the universal, mother figure and proposed rights of the forever un-fulfilled boy. To the Dolan-boy, Mother is neglectful, useless, selfish and completely unwilling (read possibly unable) to satiate the perpetual thirst of the balling man-child. Considering the point-of-view narrative; at best, it could be said that Dolan is critiquing as much the position of the ever-wanting as he is the ever-withholding, but this is never assured. However, credit always where due, his filmic style and poise already evitable, forgives the slight petulance (perhaps understandably so) of the narrative concerns.
Forward to Hearbeats, and to a much more rounded, considered picture. It’s a film that deals with the nubile glamour of the urban, student youth. Love is a lusty, wanting thing. Love is the gap between what you imagine yourself to be to others, and what you really are. Love is the salad days, when the object of one’s desire is inscrutable, perhaps even indifferent. This indifference then becomes a painful affront to the absoluteness of the protagonist’s need. Here Dolan gives us lots of long, lingering shots on beautiful, young faces, purloining snippets of other beautiful young faces. Or there are moments of promiscuity in darkened rooms between men and women, men and men – it doesn’t matter – it all seems pretty unsatisfactory, but appropriate to the wayward longings of pretty, young things.
Dolan’s third picture, Laurence Anyways, is Dolan cinematic peacock, with feathers open in full view. It is an aesthetic marvel. It begins so wonderfully burlesque and ridden with the 1980s; the young couple, Laurence and Fred, are purveyors of the ecstatic and hypersexual culture of the libertine. He is the thoughtfully, intellectual teacher of literature; she is the fun, thoroughly post-modern architect of cheesecake-commercials. If any couple can weather a sex-change in their midst, it’s them.
Amongst a cherry jam of colourful queers, beige petite bourgeoisie and an ambivalent academe, Laurence and Fred attempt to live out the days of their love in the face of judgement that lazily shuffles its feet and places the blame. Their jobs, their friends and their already floundering families view their attempts at formulating their own identities as a provocation to the status quo. Here, even within already fragmented communities, change must be ratified. Laurence cannot become a woman without consent, and consent is not forthcoming.
Aligned with this, Laurence Always poses a challenge to traditional notions of femininity as a masquerade; a performance that must be upheld by the born-female section of society. As the women in the film (including Fred) parade in lipsticks and lacquered locks, their performance is obscured by acceptability. Everywhere Laurence goes, attention is drawn. As has been proposed elsewhere, perhaps what is so threatening about the male transsexual is his/her drawing attention to some of the superficial aspects of what is ‘femininity’. In all of Dolan’s films, his protagonists are often attempting to be in a gendered or sexual flux, only curtailed by the strictures of the society at large.
Dolan’s grand scheme is commendably sculptured into artfully produced films. Although it is true that the spectator may become fatigued with his ‘young, sexy people moving in the slow-motion to the sound of jarring tunes’ technique; overall, his film’s are wonderfully indicative of a young auteur forever re-inventing his physical view on the world. His themes, although not groundbreaking, are absolutely modern. However, this is a filmmaker certainly not out of the fledgling stages of his career.
Laurence Anyways is too long for its subjects to uphold, Heartbeats is often limited by its own slight, youthfulness, and I Killed My Mother – the lesser accomplished but still interesting of the three – is perhaps strident and a little indulgent. But, post-adolescence is the apex of self-indulgence, and one can safely imagine that Xavier Dolan’s great film is yet to come.
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