Actor/writer/director Xavier Dolan’s psycho-thriller Tom at the Farm opens in the U.S. this week, two years after it premiered at the Venice Film Festival.
If you don’t know the precocious gay Québécois, you’d be well-served by the movie’s opening scene to describe his aesthetic, and maybe the perils of directing yourself: the film starts with a ten minute drive through bare-winter Canadian countryside to a remote farmhouse set to a French version of The Windmills of My Mind, which you may know from The Thomas Crown Affair. In the original, the memorable montage describes Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway’s love affair; in Dolan’s version, he’s alone in the car with himself.
The 26 year-old could be directing anyone, of course, but when you’re an attractive young guy taking a leisurely selfie, people notice. If you’re Orson Welles on Instagram, maybe not so much. But Dolan is hot.
In Europe, they’re self-obsessed even without social media, so they don’t mind, and Dolan has found his greatest success there: all of his films have premiered at Venice or Cannes and been greeted rapturously, last year at Cannes by a shared Jury Prize with Jean-Luc Godard for the younger auteur’s latest, Mommy.
But Dolan’s stylish mashup of sexual fluidity and family melodrama has been a hard sell with American distributors, so his five completed films, all eventually released in the U.S., have played out of order in American art houses. Even following Dolan’s career in the movies at the movies has been problematic.
So here’s what you may have missed, in the order they were made, and what’s coming up. Tom at the Farm, Dolan’s fourth feature, opens Friday. He’s probably grateful and annoyed.
2009: I Killed My Mother ( J’ai tué ma mère)
For Dolan’s debut, the 19 year-old directs himself as a 16 year-old from a script he wrote as a 16 year-old, and he’s fed up with mom. Hubert has a boyfriend with much cooler parents (Dolan names them Rimbaud, his single mother Lemming), ends up getting shipped off to boarding school, there’s another boyfriend, plus tantrums, lashing out, more adolescent angst and the Oedipal twist of the title. A hormonal New Wave homage and often very funny, I Killed My Mother earned a Camera d’Or and an 8-minute standing ovation at Cannes. Screened in New York for the first time in 2013.
2010: Heartbeats (Les Amours imaginaires)
In the sexy 3-way Heartbeats, Francis, played by Dolan, and his bff Marie meet superhot Nicholas at a party and take him home. The next 100 minutes is a battle for Nicholas’ affections, while Dolan’s camera lingers on the nubile 20-somethings in bed, on cobblestoned streets, feeding each other cherries and cavorting on the beach. He amps up the Nouvelle Vague—the material is vintage French New Wave—with a jolt of Hong Kong’s Wong Kar-wai. Released in the U.S. in 2011.
2012: Laurence Anyways
Dolan’s epic, 3-hour transgender Laurence Anyways, executive produced by Gus Van Sant and minus Dolan on screen, finds the director contrasting lyrical passages with documentary restraint in the decades-spanning story of a woman in love with a man who’s transitioning to a woman. Laurence and Frédérique—nicknamed Fred to really mix things up—are a great couple, but Laurence has a secret: she’s a woman, too, and wants to do something about it. Dolan alum Suzanne Clément earned Un Certain Regard for best actress at Cannes for her ferocious Fred, and Dolan picked up a Queer Palm. Released in the U.S. in 2013.
2013: Tom at the Farm
Tom at the Farm is a psychological thriller about a young Montrealer who travels to rural Canada for an ex-boyfriend’s funeral, and ends up insinuating himself into the family—on the DL. He’s outed by the dead boyfriend’s brother, who has his own issues with the gay and uses Tom’s deception to his advantage. With echoes of The Talented Mr. Ripley and Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (there’s a North by Northwest cornfield chase, as well), plus that moody Windmills of My Mind opener. Won the International Film Critics Award at Venice. Released in the U.S. in 2015.
Dolan returns to mother in Mommy, with the same mom in the title role, Anne Dorval, from I Killed My Mother 5 years before, but a different son, blonde punk Antoine Olivier Pilon. This time out, the occasional grace notes of compassion for Dolan’s mother in that first, semi-autobiographical film mature into an understanding, with some hindsight, of just how much mother may have had to put up with. Dorval’s more sympathetic character is contrasted with Pilon’s even more manic son, threatened by a near-future government with the authority to commit him. Shot and screened with a 1:1 aspect ratio, so you’re right up in there, and awarded a Prix du Jury and Palme d’Or at Cannes. Released in the U.S. in January.
2016: It’s Only the End of the World (Juste la fin du monde)
It’s Only the End of the World is based on the 1990 play by Jean-Luc Lagarce about a writer returning to his family after 12 years of estrangement to announce he’s dying. Good times, Dogme 95’s The Celebration vibe. With a cast including Marion Cotillard, Léa Seydoux and Vincent Cassel. In production.
TBA: The Death and Life of John F. Donovan
Dolan’s first English-language film is a satire starring Jessica Chastain and Lord of the Rings’ Jon Snow AKA Kit Harington. Donovan is an actor whose life and career are turned upside-down when a gossip columnist exposes his private correspondence with an 11-year-old fan, oops. With Susan Sarandon as mom and Kathy Bates as manager. Lots of mothers.
And for your immediate viewing pleasure: