For some, the debut of Director Xavier Dolan was marked by its micro budget techniques and doomed from consumption. The drama I Killed my Mother (2009) did however take Cannes by storm and has since filtered through to the international market. Although at times the film suffers from its crisp digital image, which alienates the audience in certain scenes; such as the chase in the dreamland woods, it does maintain our attention and achieves far more to anyone who relates to its content.

Nonetheless, the film is far superior to the usual dramas made every year from the glitz and glamour that is Hollywood. The two lead performances of mother and son, played beautifully by Anne Dorval and Dolan himself, linger in the spectator’s minds as touching, paradoxical, personal and even genuine.

Dolan, when asked about the youthful and organic authenticity of his films, responds with a simple, “I don’t have a choice”. This being true, because of his age and probably his life experiences, allows him to create the semi-autobiographical narrative of his films.

…a filmmaker with a growing repertoire of style…

Moving on from I Killed my Mother and its success, the question that probably stayed with anyone that enjoyed it would be “what would follow such a strong start?” Well, the answer was Heartbeats (2010), an even stronger film than Dolan’s first and one that would not only place him in a firm position for any following project, but establish him as a filmmaker with a growing repertoire of style, heavyweight narratives and an ability to make any scene, no matter how unnecessary it is to the plot, stunning to watch.

Many viewers (or rather just the Youtube community) have labelled Dolan’s slow motion scenes as “airless perfume adverts”. I for one disagree with this. Of course the “Bang Bang” music of Heartbeats is cued in time with the steps and cuts of the scenes, and at times you could see the sequence simply fading into a guileless white type font for some perfume advert. But then, there is something completely unique in these artistic scenes, they were present in I killed my Mother as well, there they were accompanied with short classical tunes; nonetheless, in both instances, there is something that comes through to the audience that couldn’t be achieved in a separate free style dialogue scene – and it is the simple facial expressions which are projected.

…[Dolan] taps into human emotion, captures it on the screen and allows his audience to feel it for only a heartbeat…

For instance, when Dolan enters the Café, he is quickly confronted with the emotion which I read as jealousy. In this sequence, the audience experience the simplest shift in mood and tone through one of the oldest tricks of cinema; the close-up.

In Dolan’s work, this intimate space seems to be the only area where the audience is allowed to exist – a kind of voyeuristic, but not passive act of being onlookers.

…memorable, fresh, raw and unadulterated – what all films should thrive for.

These scenes are often photographed with great care, whether it is the close-up of Anne Dorval savagely eating a bagel in I killed my Mother, or Monia Chokri looking down in a red canvas of lust in Heartbeats. It is easy to see why Dolan has been so successful and why he will continue doing so; it is because he taps into human emotion, captures it on the screen and allows his audience to feel it for only a heartbeat, making it memorable, fresh, raw and unadulterated – what all films should thrive for.

‘Heartbeats’ is released on DVD in the UK on the 12 of September.

Image courtesy of Xavier Dolan



About The Author

I am currently a Film Studies student at Queen Mary University of London. Although my passion lies with Cinema, its production and consumption. I have lived abroad in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Israel, and through this I have managed to discover an interest in international culture, as well as national ones. I hope one day to achieve my dream job of being a film director - so look out (if all goes to plan).

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