Dolan makes a killing in Cannes

Cannes darling Xavier Dolan, who burst onto the international film scene last month with his moving love story about a single mother and her son, J'ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother), has already sold his prize-winning film to 14 countries.

Cannes darling Xavier Dolan, who burst onto the international film scene last month with his moving love story about a single mother and her son, J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother), has already sold his prize-winning film to 14 countries.

Even Brad Pitt has expressed an interest in working with the 20-year-old Quebecer, who wrote, produced, directed – and starred in – the film, which picked up three prizes at the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight: the Art Cinema Award, handed out by an international jury; the SACD prize for best French-language film; and the Prix Regards Jeunes, which is given to an outstanding first-time director by young film fans.

‘I’m mesmerized,’ says Dolan of his new celebrity status. Wearing a navy hoodie, black jeans and oversized Buddy Holly glasses, the young director thoughtfully responds to questions from the numerous journalists who have lined up in the Radio-Canada lounge to meet the filmmaking wunderkind. ‘The public’s reaction has been so sincere and so cheerful.’

Dolan wrote the script, which he says is based on his experience living with a mother he was ‘incompatible with,’ when he was just 17. He asked one of Quebec’s most celebrated actresses, Anne Dorval (Rumeurs), to star as his mother, and financed the shoot with $150,000 of his personal savings. ‘I knew Anne from working in the business,’ says the former child actor. ‘She liked the script. She was also incompatible with her mother.’

The dynamic between Hubert (played by Dolan) and his mother is fierce and often explodes in violent bursts of emotion. The young, gay art student is irritated by nearly everything his conventional mother does: she wears tight leopard-patterned pants and goofy fake fur hats, has paintings of tigers on her wall, likes to go to the tanning spa and doesn’t know who Jackson Pollock is. In short, her behavior and taste are unrefined and at times revolting to him. And he makes her pay for her foibles with a steady stream of abusive comments.

‘He wants to be an artist and she doesn’t know shit about art,’ says Dolan.

For her part, his resilient and at times outraged mother takes a few shots of her own, constantly asking her gifted son why he ‘can’t be like all the other boys.’

‘They are like a couple. When you live with someone for so long you become intolerant of them. The more familiar you get, the more irritated. The love can be as intense as the hatred,’ says Dolan.

I Killed My Mother’s distributor, K-Films Amérique’s Louis Dussault, says he knew the film would make its mark as soon as he screened it.

‘It’s a first film, but it’s a big film,’ says the distributor. ‘It’s exceptional and it’s about a universal subject. At Cannes, most of the audience were not from Quebec and they were transported by it.’

Countries as diverse as the U.S., France, Greece, South Korea and Israel have all picked up the film because it has universal appeal, says Quebec`s main distributor of auteur flicks.

Dussault says he was careful to build much buzz around the film for its Cannes launch. ‘No journalists were permitted to see the film until the Cannes festival. This built momentum.’

Launching a film at Cannes by such a young director was also a publicist’s dream, he says. ‘It’s such a Cinderella story. He came out of nowhere.’

Not quite nowhere. Despite Quebec tabloids’ efforts to paint him as a complete unknown, Dolan has been hanging around film sets and film types his whole life. He counts among his close friends Odile Tremblay, Quebec’s respected film critic at Le Devoir.

‘What I find interesting is that there is finally a model for young people in Quebec who isn’t a sports star. He’s an artist and an intellectual,’ says Dussault. ‘I hope he will inspire the new generation to get involved in the arts.’

For his part, Dolan believes his generation has lots to say. ‘We just need to be allowed to take the mike.’

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