At 21, Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan has been the toast of Cannes and Toronto twice. Last year saw him premiere his directorial debut “I Killed My Mother” first at Cannes to great acclaim, then at his home country’s premiere film event. Just a year later, Dolan is repeating that film’s festival trajectory with his latest, “Heartbeats.” Dolan stopped by the Filmmaker’s Lounge in Toronto to discuss his latest drama, and his burgeoning career, with moderator Brian Brooks.
The film charts the story of two friends who become infatuated with a beautiful stranger. Dolan revealed that he wrote the script while traveling to and from Toronto to promote his first feature at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
“It’s kind of an essay on the downfall of love, if that makes sense,” he said of the film.
Dolan said he landed into filmmaking rather haphazardly, mainly in an effort to land a decent acting job. He chose to direct “Mother” so that he could cast himself in the lead role, without the control of a casting director calling the shots.
“I was kind of desperate to act,” Dolan said. “It was my first passion. Acting is still my first love. My first job is to be an actor. It’s been the priority in my movies.”
On directing his own performances, Dolan stressed that he is especially harsh on himself. Eliciting strong performances from himself and his cast mates, he said, is his primary focus while on his own films’ sets. To keep the focus on the actors, Dolan said he likes to keep filmmaking virtuosity to a minimum, not letting the camera move unless the characters are in motion.
“I’m starting to think more and more that I’m not director who likes dollies,” Dolan said. “I’ll use cinema’s tools for dream sequences, but for what is real, I think it’s important to stick to reality and naturalist things.”
When asked for names of directors that have influenced his minimalist filmmaking aesthetic, Dolan had this to say:
“I like the word inspire, but I don’t like the word influence. The only things that ‘influenced’ me in ‘Heartbeats’ were the mistakes I made on my last film. I try not to copy of emulate those that inspire me, like Godard. I’m striving to do my own stuff, which is personal to me, and which I do instinctively. I don’t want to focus on a signature.
“I’m young. I don’t really know what I’m doing.”