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Xavier Dolan, whose first English-language film, The Death & Life of John F. Donovan, has its world premiere at TIFF on Monday, made quite the splash when the writer-director-actor’s first movie screened at Cannes in 2009.
The Hollywood Reporter’s review called it “a somewhat uneven film that demonstrates a great deal of talent” that has “brilliantly achieved cinematic moments and repetitive, massively self-indulgent gestures of acting out.”
Perhaps it was because he was only 20, or maybe it was the provocative title — I Killed My Mother — but his debut garnered reams of attention from the international media. “I’m a big mouth,” he once told The New York Times. “People dislike me and think I’m a narcissistic brat. But one thing no one can ever take away from me is that I’ve always spoken my mind, and I’ve always been true to myself.” (Unfortunately Mother didn’t get much attention at the box office, grossing just $340,000.)
The film’s plot, which was semi-autobiographical, centers on a gay adolescent (Dolan) who is constantly at odds with his mother. To call the relationship love-hate doesn’t do the emotional complexity justice. While Dolan has said he was “brought up on family dramas from the ’90s like Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire,” his work had him being compared to Alfred Hitchcock, Arthur Rimbaud and Woody Allen.
Dolan was born in Montreal, where he began appearing in commercials while still in kindergarten. He quickly developed into an in-demand child actor in TV and films. In fact, it was his childhood earnings that helped finance Mother. Dolan was back at Cannes in 2010 with Heartbeats and again in 2014 with Mommy, which THR thought was “the favorite for the Palme d’Or.” (The top prize went to Turkish film Winter Sleep.)
During a news conference, Dolan said that the film that really inspired Mommy was Titanic. “It was so ambitious,” he said, “that it gave me the faith in crazy and ambitious ideas.”
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter’s Sept. 9 daily issue at the Toronto Film Festival.
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