Xavier Dolan


Xavier Dolan, Heartbeats, 2011, stills from a color film, 95 minutes. Left: Marie (Monia Chokri). Right: Nicolas (Niels Schneider).

Xavier Dolan is a celebrated twenty-one-year-old filmmaker from Montreal. His first work J’ai tué ma mére (How I Killed My Mother) won three awards at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. His latest piece, Amours Imaginaires (Heartbeats), opens at IFC Center in New York on February 25. Here, Dolan talks about obsession, love, and the impact of French modernism on his work.

IF IT’S NOT OBSESSIVE, IT IS PROBABLY NOT LOVE. Passion and obsession are very similar. It’s just that we don’t have reciprocal feelings most of the time and so we tend to view obsession as one way. But when it’s reciprocal, it becomes passion. For me, to be obsessed with someone is to be in love and to be in love is to be obsessed. I don’t consider obsession a pejorative word or wrong.

I found more of my inspiration for Heartbeats in literature and visual art rather than other films. Marie and Francis, the two main characters, are passionate about the impossibility of what they fell for. They’re into the image, or the concept of love more than love itself. What is exciting for them is the idea of being loved by such a beautiful person. In the party scene where they’re dancing, they see this guy and Francis thinks of Cocteau drawings and Marie sees excerpts of Michelangelo’s David, for me this is a scene where I am trying to explain that they’re experiencing projection. They don’t know this guy: he’s rather uninteresting and he has questionable charisma. In essence, he’s pretty empty, but the characters don’t see this. They’re excited by the fact that he is out of reach; that he’s an impossible quest. What’s exciting to Marie and Francis in unrequited love is not that it’s love, it’s the fact that it’s unrequited; that they love the idea of being treated like shit. It’s modern and subtle sadism.

It’s like Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, when the Narrator says “I’ve wasted years of my life, I’ve wanted to die, had my greatest heartbreak for a girl that didn’t love me. For a girl that I actually didn’t love, didn’t want to love, and who wasn’t even my type.” He always had whatever he wanted and it’s the fact that she wanted him so badly when he didn’t, and when he actually tried to love to her, he was indifferent. That dead love and obsession made him fall for her and to me that is very interesting because it seems to be the rule.

This film is not revolutionary in its subject matter. My mission in life is not to become a revolutionary film director or even a great director. My ambition in life is to be a great storyteller. So in this film I am exploring how I have always been a victim of love.

There is this scene in the film where Marie is walking on the street and she’s got this dress on, a 1940s dress with a little buckle in the back and she’s walking in slow motion and she’s got a very nice ass. In the reflection of a storefront window she passes you can see a Metro truck driving by, which annoyed me when it happened. Metro in Quebec is a chain of grocery stores and this reflection seemed like a catastrophe because it’s just so unromantic and it has nothing to do with the gracefulness and the elegance of the shot. At the same time, I love it. It’s so complimentary; a happy coincidence. I am actually lucky. It reminds me of how much these characters are living in an alternate reality when they’re walking down the streets completely in love.

— As told to John Arthur Peetz