This year, Xavier Dolan will make his biggest splash at Cannes yet

Cannes audiences are not easily entertained. Unlike the reserved moviegoers of the Sundance and Toronto film festivals – where even a disaster will be greeted with polite applause – Cannes attendees can be a more mercurial bunch, unafraid to loudly boo and hiss a movie after its premiere, no matter how high its pedigree. Walk-outs aren’t unheard of, and the press conferences can be notoriously vicious. But all of this venom just makes Xavier Dolan’s long and loving history with Cannes all the more impressive.

At just 27 years old, Dolan is nearly synonymous with the Croisette. The Québécois filmmaker – an art-house genius to some, a brash hot shot to others, but a singular artist to everyone – has already been invited to the Cannes Film Festival five times in his young career, premiering four of his past five films there, and sitting on the jury last year. However temperamental Cannes audiences are, there’s one thing they can seemingly agree on: Dolan is an artist worth celebrating.

But this year, Dolan will be making his biggest splash at Cannes yet. On Thursday morning, Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux revealed that the festival would feature the world premiere of Dolan’s new drama, Juste la fin du monde (It’s Only the End of the World), a Canada-France co-production that features a powerhouse international cast – including Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard and Spectre star Lea Seydoux – that just might propel Dolan into the awards race come this fall.

“With Marion I got lucky because I met her at a party in France, and told her I loved her and what she does, presuming that she wouldn’t know who I was,” Dolan says over the phone from London, where he’s currently scouting locations for his next film. “And to my surprise she told me she loved my work, too, so I was very humbled and touched. On the way back home, I already knew that I had a film for her in mind, a play I’d known about for a long, long time, but hadn’t connected with yet.”

That play was French author Jean-Luc Lagarce’s Juste la fin du monde, which actress Anne Dorval (Dolan’s frequent collaborator) introduced to him years ago and tells the story of a writer’s tense return to his hometown to announce his pending death. “She told me I had to read it, but its extraordinary language and vernacular was so sophisticated back when I was 21 that it bored me, I didn’t understand it, I didn’t get it,” Dolan says with a laugh. “This is adult material, like Proust, almost. I thought, ‘You got to come back to it when you’re older, when you’ve lived a little.’

Dolan has certainly packed in more life experience than most in those six short years. His prolific career – five features, all near-universally acclaimed, with 2014’s Mommy sharing the jury prize when it premiered at Cannes – would be remarkable for any feature filmmaker, let alone someone under the age of 30 working within Canada’s oft-complex industry. Yet the Montreal-born director still found time to sit on the Cannes jury last year, which has naturally widened his perspective on the film festival, if not necessarily affected his expectations for Juste la fin du monde’s reception.

“Being on the jury was the greatest experience of my life, artistically, and the relationships I made with [fellow jurors] Guillermo del Toro and the Coen brothers was lasting. Del Toro even made it to the set of this film,” Dolan says. “The conversations we had were so honest. We didn’t talk much about what we hated – we know the crowd in Cannes can be quite awful when they hate a movie – so we focused on things we loved. There was no political agenda, just everyone being sincere and speaking with their hearts.”

Dolan’s jury ended up awarding the coveted Palme d’Or to Dheepan – a controversial choice, given how Jacques Audiard’s film about Sri Lankan immigrants in France takes a jarring third-act detour into bloody Sam Peckinpah territory. Yet Dolan says one year’s jury has no bearing on the next. “The time was different, the atmosphere was different and the competition was different,” he says. “This year’s jury will be driven by different considerations and socio-political thoughts in terms of what’s going on in the world. It’s a different conjecture, a different bunch of films. I cannot say how it’s going to happen this time around, I’m not even going to try and guess.”

In the meantime, Dolan is hardly resting on his Cannes laurels. Just as he wraps work on Juste la fin du monde, the director is in Europe working on preproduction for his English-language debut, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, which features perhaps even a brighter cast than Juste la fin du monde, including Natalie Portman, Jessica Chastain, Susan Sarandon and Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington.

“I keep getting slightly worried that they’re all going to call up and say, ‘Hey, we can’t do it.’ And I’ll just say, no I completely understand,” says Dolan, who adds that he’s careful not to change his ways just because he’s working with bold-faced names. “What’s exciting is that I will approach this journey like any other work. Approaching them different could be a mistake. I just want to create this movie with integrity. I feel like I’m driven not by ambition but by the movie itself, by telling the story right.”

Dolan’s entry, which will compete for the Palme d’Or, marks the only Canadian film to make it to Cannes this year, a far cry from 2014’s festival, which saw movies from a record number of homegrown talents including Dolan, Atom Egoyan and not one but two Cronenbergs (David and his son, Brandon).

Yet this year’s lineup is undoubtedly one of the festival’s most anticipated in years. Master filmmakers including Paul Verhoeven (Elle), Jeff Nichols (Loving), Park Chan-wook (The Handmaiden), Olivier Assayas (Personal Shopper), Andrea Arnold (American Honey) and Cristian Mungiu (Baccalaureat) will be among the 20 filmmakers competing with Dolan for the Palme this year. Out-of-competition titles such as Jodie Foster’s George Clooney-starring drama Money Monster, Shane Black’s Ryan Gosling-Russell Crowe crime comedy The Nice Guys and Steven Spielberg’s The BFG, meanwhile, will help bring a high celebrity quotient to the red carpet. (This year’s festival runs May 11 to 22.)

Naturally, this year’s lineup is not without controversy. For starters, the festival is once again indulging its critics by feting Woody Allen – for the 14th time – by opening with his not-in-competition Cafe Society. (Perhaps because the film, featuring Steve Carell and Kristen Stewart, is a bit glitzier than last year’s tepidly received and star-less opener Standing Tall.) And then there’s the fact only three women, out of 20 filmmakers, are competing for this year’s Palme. It’s a very slight boost from last year, when just two women were selected for the slate, but far from the diversity most industry-watchers were hoping for.

Also causing ripples in the film community are the movies that didn’t end up making it to this year’s festival. Presumed frontrunners included Martin Scorsese’s historical drama Silence, Terrence Malick’s documentary Voyage of Time, Oliver Stone’s biopic Snowden, Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic The Story of Your Life, Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, and Nate Parker’s Sundance sensation The Birth of a Nation.

Of course, this just means we can start wildly speculating as to which of those films will make it to Toronto in September.

Also on The Globe and Mail

Liam Lacey on ‘Mommy’, a Xavier Dolan film rich in emotional baggage
(The Globe and Mail)

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

One comment

  • dunrob

    ‘that just might propel Dolan into the awards race come this fall.’ If this is a reference to the Oscars, it’s not very flattering. Oscars have little if any meaning in the real world of cinematography. A Palme d’Or is worth 10 Oscars in all but the USA where vulgarity, swearing and blood are the norm in movies.

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