Symmetry, Shot, Closeup: How Xavier Dolan Makes His Film

Everything has its own personal style. You have a personal style of managing things out; your mom has a personal style of making toasts;  a favorite store at the corner has a personal style of supporting customers; popular WooCasino, where your friend often hangs out, has its very unique style of ordering huge game collections. Style is everywhere. So, modern directors are no exception, because, in order to talk about you, you need to be different from your guild brothers.


Xavier Dolan stands out from other directors not only in the subject of films. He really challenged traditional cinematic and social notions of gender and social identity.


Xavier Dolan managed to attract the attention of the viewer thanks to the expressive portrayal of atypical characters: nonconformists, outsiders, problem teenagers. It is difficult to portray these heroes as real (and not fictional) people because they are difficult to fit into the framework and norms of society. The director was helped by a kind of shooting technique that played a decisive role in his popularity and general recognition.

Symmetry in the Frame

In Xavier Dolan’s films, the character is in the center of the frame. If there are two actors in the scene, the director resorts to symmetry. For example, in the film “I Killed My Mom,” the main characters are placed symmetrically to each other, facing the viewer. This move plays up the narrative: the viewer sees the attitude of the characters to each other, understands the importance of the moment. Aesthetic harmony in one shot, even when it comes to antagonistic and interdependent relationships.

Portrait Photography

Dolan uses close-ups. The result is images focused on facial expressions. They reveal the personality of atypical characters. Close-ups also play up the narrative and emotionality, the psychological nature of the moment. In the films, I Killed My Mom, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, the focus on the face allows us to see the psychological state of the characters, their mental anguish, alienation from the world.

Frame in Frame

Often in Xavier Dolan’s films, darkness carries a separate meaning. For example, Dolan ends dinner at Fred and Laurence’s restaurant (“Laurence Anyways”) with an outside shot. We see the heroes as a miniature in a window frame while the rest of the screen is filled with darkness. Fred and Laurence are happy, but huge darkness awaits them outside the restaurant: difficulties, a society in which there is no place for a deviant person.

Shooting from an Angle

In Dolan’s works, the camera angle is taken unusually high or, conversely, too low. Due to this, the character’s subjective view of things reappears. Parts of the face, biting lips, twisting arms, exhaling – Dolan’s way of emphasizing the mental state of the characters.

Musical Aesthetics

Dolan uses music for emotional and atmospheric scenes in his films. Often the director uses slow motion to contrast these “clips” with the rest of the film, emphasizing the importance of the moment.

What Does Dolan Use These Techniques For?

First of all, to reveal the psychologism of the characters, their personality, their view of the world. Because of what Xavier Dolan’s films form in the viewer a sense of the character’s presence in scenes and shots, the reality of what is happening on the screen. Few moments of “neutral” or “objective”. The scenes are shot from the point of view of the hero, expressively and energetically.


The character’s subjectivity guides the story, filming, and aesthetics of the film. This is clearly seen in Dolan’s early work, where simple plots are shot in such a way that even they do not leave the viewer indifferent.


Is It Appropriate?

When portraying atypical characters, yes. With the help of the author’s techniques, a widow, a homosexual, a teenager, and an unhappy person, in whose place it is usually difficult to imagine oneself, will find a response from the viewer.


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