Piecing together the impressive first three films in what could well become an illustrious and bountiful directorial career, La Folie d’Amour: The Xavier Dolan Collection offers the chance to experience the work of precocious enfant terrible and Quebecois hotshot Xavier Dolan. The writer, director, producer, sometimes-actor and editor of his own projects – with stakes in their respective art and costume departments – Dolan has done what few contemporary filmmakers succeed at: establishing at an incredibly early age deeply idiosyncratic auteurist sensibilities saturated by raw and deeply felt stories and subject matter.
The first rung on Dolan’ rapidly ascending cinematic career is I Killed My Mother (J’ai tué ma mère, 2009), an impeccably focused and confident debut that plants the seeds of Dolan’s strong awareness of the filmic balance between style and substance. Based on a semi-autobiographical screenplay Dolan wrote at the tender age of sixteen, the film depicts the turbulent relationship between teenager Hubert (played by the director himself) and his mother, astonishingly played by Anne Dorval, who he believes isn’t a suitable presence in his life.
His sophomore outing, Heartbeats (Les amours imaginaires, 2010), is an equally flowing but slightly less engrossing tale of doomed fixations and stifled lust; something of an inversion of François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim (1962). Dolan plays Francis, whose close friendship with fellow hipster Marie (Monia Chokri) is severely tested when they meet Nicolas (Niels Schneider), a sexually ambivalent country boy who becomes an object of intense desire between the two friends. A complex psychological ménage a trois ensues, with Nicholas’ subtle manipulations leading Francis and Marie into an obsessive and ultimately tragic frenzy.
Whatever lack of deep characterisation there is in Heartbeats is made up for in Laurence Anyways (2012), his most sprawling and flamboyant examination of sexual identity under its broad 160-minute runtime. Melvil Poupaud plays Laurence, an outwardly composed and intelligent high school teacher who reveals to his girlfriend (Suzanne Clément) that he wishes to embrace the woman he was born to be. Chronicling their blustery, decade long relationship, the film matches handsomely messy cinematic decadence with a vivid evocation of the 1990s. Laurence is plodding, yet ultimately beautiful and rewarding – analogous of Dolan’s ambitious, fluid and perfectly coiffed career thus far.