Final Comments on Xavier Dolan

Last week I concluded my review series of Xavier Dolan’s films with his latest (and possibly most disappointing) effort, It’s Only the End of the World. I have already made my opinions clear on each of his works, but now it seems only fitting I sum everything up and give a brief outline of my overall impressions of the young filmmaker.

Dolan made an undeniably bold statement with the release of his debut, I Killed My Mother. Even putting aside the fact that he was nineteen at the time of making it, he still exhibited an indisputable flair in his filmmaking style, from his long takes (which are generally not easy for a director to pull off) to intricate camera angles and pitch-perfect cinematography. While it was clear from the beginning that Dolan was out to make a name for himself, there was also room to improve his narrative pacing, which was I Killed My Mother’s only real weakness.

Unfortunately, Dolan’s follow-up Heartbeats showed that narrative is not the only thing that can get away from him at times. I personally found the film to be a disappointment not because of its pacing (an area in which Dolan actually showed improvement this time around), but because of his distractingly blatant over-stylisation. This is an issue that has dogged some other works of his (most notably It’s Only the End of the World) to varying degrees, and in truth some of my favourite cinematic moments from Dolan is when he actually shows a sense of creative restraint.

All this being said, I don’t want to dwell on the negative aspects of Dolan’s filmmaking, because it simply would not do justice to his overall talents as a filmmaker, which surpass many of his contemporaries. He has an eye for human drama, and this is always made clear from the performances Dolan is able to get from his stars, even when he is otherwise getting in his own way. And when almost everything is done right (or basically when Dolan is not too busy trying to squeeze every ounce of style he possibly can out of his shots), he produces wonderful dramatic pieces like the epic Laurence Anyways, or his most cohesive work yet, Mommy.

What can’t be left unsaid, though, is the fact that Dolan’s ability as a director is best demonstrated in a film that is not even amongst his absolute best: Tom at the Farm. While this film is held back by Dolan’s occasionally uneven storytelling, it is still a solid film whose true brilliance lies in Dolan’s ability to take his own style, which was used only for dramatic cinema before this, and very effectively apply it to the thriller genre. It more than hints at Dolan’s inherent versatility, leaving me with a lingering eagerness to see another thriller from the director down the line.

Xavier Dolan is an ambitious director; there is no two ways about that. And sometimes his own ambitions leave him flying a little too close to the sun, but at least he takes risks in his pursuit for greatness. It is an admirable quality from someone who is clearly more concerned with achieving artistic heights, as opposed to seeking high box office returns.

I have said it before in one of my earlier reviews, but it bears repeating that I very much believe Dolan has at least one true masterpiece in him. With the upcoming release of his first English language film, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, whose all-star cast includes Kit Harrington, Jessica Chastain, and Oscar winners like Kathy Bates and Natalie Portman, there is a chance his masterpiece may not be long coming.


Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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