Actor/director Xavier Dolan is fast becoming Hollywood North’s prized young talent. Twenty-one years of age, Dolan is behind Les Amours Imaginaires (Heartbeats) one of the year’s most talked about Canadian — French-Canadian, that is — films.
Now in theatres, the film had its world premiere at this year’s Festival de Cannes. For Dolan, having his film presented in a gala screening at the prestigious festival, walking the same red carpet that Francois Truffaut did when he took Cannes — and the film industry at large — by storm with 400 Blows, was a little more than surreal. “It was like doing very hard drugs,” he jokes.
Most recently screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, the film, with scenes of harrowing naivety and moments of tragic comedy, shares a tale of unrequited love carved out for the sentimental cynic in all of us.
Blinded by the beauty and charisma of Nico (Niels Schneider), a newcomer in town, best friends Francis (Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri) find themselves vying to win his affection, against reason and allegiance to one another. An ode to poet Robert Grave’s adage, “Love is a universal migraine,” Les Amours Imaginaires shares with the audience a glimpse of the tear-soaked, four-letter-word as a blotted vision of passion; a vantage point that the audience, like Dolan himself, can “sincerely relate [to].”
How did you find wearing two hats on this project, acting as both director and lead actor?
Easy. I would do it again. Directing and acting are two separate things for me. I can do one without doing the other, but since I’m an actor in the first place and no one wants me for an actor, I give myself roles.
Well they should want you! And as a director as well: the cinematography in the film is stunning. Did you visualize it through the writing process, or was it something that came out of conversations with cinematographer Stéphanie Anne Weber Biron?
A lot of things were visualized [during] the writing. Stéphanie has stunning “shoulder-camera” capacities, and is very curious and romantic in her approach, but I like to choose camera lenses and frame shots myself, and everything is decided precisely before the scene.
So no spontaneous frames?
Sometimes there is a bit of improv, but not often, because we have very little time (and money).
Nico’s appearance in the lives of Francis and Marie, as well as his own outer appearance with his blond ringlets, calls to mind Tadzio from Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. Do you glimpse a hint of Aschenbach in Francis and Marie’s passion for Nicolas?
Yes, I do. My characters are cynical intellectuals, but yet they are fascinated by this personality-less Adonis.
The film is set in Montréal, and you get a real feel for the city through the scenes. Is Montréal a source of inspiration for you?
Yes. Inspiration for me [is] where the past lies, I believe. My past, my life, is in Montréal, and I find inspiration from my past and childhood. It all happens here. Even for a script taking place somewhere else, on another continent. I’d never leave Montréal. But they say never to say never.
Taking into consideration the whole continent now, what would you say is the most beautiful moment in cinematic history?
I couldn’t point [to] only one moment, resign myself to such a limited quantity. But let’s say that one of the most beautiful moments in cinematic history is the arrival of the French New Wave. The arrival of freedom.
The French New Wave was infused with the Zeitgeist. Similarly, your film seems to speak to your generation.
I think it speaks to every generation. Plus, I don’t believe in generations. My friends are twice my age, and even more, or younger, or 30, or 65, or 70. And we talk like we’ve known each other for decades. I know some of their memories as if I had lived them at the side of my friends. When someone goes to see a film, he goes in the theatre and sits there as a human being, not as a prototype of a generation.
While you may feel twice your age, you are still quite young. Do you feel that because of this you are more open to critics’ arrows?
I admire critics. But I think some of them are watching films with their arms crossed. There is a lost hope somewhere, and the secret dream of a director is to satiate that hope.