How Xavier Dolan Plays the Triangle



Handsome and brooding, Xavier Dolan was the 21-year-old darling of the Cannes Film Festival for the past two years. But he missed the New York premiere of his second feature film Heartbeats, a stylized and tender look at two best friends who fall in love with the same man, because his plane wouldn’t take off. When we met him two days later, he was slumped on a cushioned armchair in the Mercer Hotel lobby, almost in fetal position, apologizing for “exploding” and telling his publicist to cancel the rest of the day’s interviews. Many his age are burnt out from finals and frat parties, but Dolan has directed and starred in two award-winning feature films in the past two years and has a third underway.

XAVIER DOLAN: I want to start by saying I’m sorry I’m not completely there. I’m exploding. Not on drugs! I’m out of energy.

DEENAH VOLLMER: Too much going on?

DOLAN: Well, you know the drill. Interviews. And I’m producing my next film. I escaped from Montreal in order to do this junket.

VOLLMER: Are you sick of people commenting on how young you are?

DOLAN: No, I don’t care. What can I do? [laughs] I’m sick of people imposing cultural references and influences on me, but I’m not sick of people talking about my age.

VOLLMER: Tell me about your philosophy as a director?

DOLAN: Uh, none. I don’t master my craft or my style enough to have any philosophy or dogma to which I feel I belong. I don’t know, I’m doing it in a sort of natural way and I try to seek basic feelings like freedom and love out of it. I don’t belong to any school or clique or ghetto. I don’t have any preconceived ideas. I’m trying to serve a story and not a genre or a style.

VOLLMER: Heartbeats seems to emphasize friendship over romantic love. Do you agree with that?

DOLAN: A lot of people mention the fact that it was a film of friendship and not love, but that’s not necessarily what I wanted to do. I wanted to do an “unrequited love” theme, being obsessed with impossible quests and out-of-reach people, and show that we’re more infatuated with concepts and ideas than individuals. And it’s even simpler than that. Just that these two people, the heroes of the film, the two friends, are so desperate for love that they will just fall for the first beautiful guy that they meet. I thought I could explore that with some sincerity and not feel like it was some kind of phony impostor or something.

VOLLMER: Are you as cynical towards romantic love as it seems?

DOLAN: No. No, I’m not cynical. Yes, there is bitterness and there is acidity, but there is hope. I would fall over and over again in the same patterns. I don’t heal. Actually, sorry, I do heal from these scars. I have the impression that every time I’m heartbroken, I leave a bit of myself behind. I am the believer. I go back and do the same mistakes over and over again and sign them proudly. And my characters do too, at the end of the film.

VOLLMER: Would you consider Heartbeats to be an autobiographical film?

DOLAN: I’ve never experienced this kind of triangle, but all of the specific situations and all the lines and all the anecdotes and the stories, they’re all part of my history. I’m recycling bits and pieces from my own life.

VOLLMER: So what are the plans for the next film?

DOLAN: It’s called Laurence Anyways. It’s the story of Laurence, who is a thirty-year-old man who announces to his girlfriend on his thirtieth birthday that he is going to be a woman after Christmas, in 1989. Despite her evident surprise, she finally accepts to give it a chance and support him through the transition. And they stay together and try to make it work, but soon enough, the social pressure and the family alienation, professional issues, are significant obstacles and tear them apart as they try to survive and save their love over a period of like, ten years. They break up, she marries, he stays alone, they meet again.

VOLLMER: Will you act in the movie?

DOLAN: No, there is no role for me in this film.

VOLLMER: Are you looking forward to directing something you’re not acting in?

DOLAN: I couldn’t say so, because I love acting. It’s my passion.

VOLLMER: In Heartbeats you have these interview sequences. Are those real people telling their stories, or did you script that?

DOLAN: I’m very flattered that you think that would be possible. But no, they’re actors, and that was really scripted, actually. For me, the interviews were a social input on the situation. I thought it was interesting to have different point of views and not only focus on the two same crazy people. I wanted to enlarge the perspectives a bit, and inject some variety and diversity in the topic.

VOLLMER: At the end of the film, your character makes a really shocking physical reaction to seeing the love object again. Where did that come from?

DOLAN: It’s a tribute to River Phoenix, in one of the scenes of My Own Private Idaho, there is this girl smoking in his face and blowing the smoke on him and he goes like, “arghhhhhhhh.” It was an homage to him.

VOLLMER: Have you ever reacted that way in your real life?

DOLAN: In real life? No. I don’t have enough imagination.

VOLLMER: You have great hair. What’s your secret?

DOLAN: Dirtiness. The texture is more workable if they’re greasy. Oh my god. No one is going to sleep with me now. No one actually sleeps with me anyways, so.

VOLLMER: [laughs] That’s hard to believe.

DOLAN: It’s true.