FILM REVIEW | Elephant Song15th July 2015
★★★★ | Elephant Song
At only 26 years old, French-Canadian Xavier Dolan already has five films under his directorial belt, all of which have been well received and critically acclaimed. In addition, he’s acted in 12 films, including the just released Elephant Song.
In 2009, Dolan directed, produced, starred and wrote J’ai Tué Ma Mére (I Killed My Mother), a semi-autobiographical story about him as a young gay man at odds with his mother, and wrote the script when he was at the tender age of 17. It won 3 awards at the Cannes Film Festival. The next year he wrote, directed, produced and starred (again) in Les Amours Imaginaires (Heartbeats), a story about three close friends who are involved in a love triangle. In 2012 Dolan continued his string of emotional and heartfelt films by writing and directing Laurence Anyways. At 168 minutes, it was an ambitious project for the young director to do, it was about the struggle of a straight man who, over the course of ten years, transitions from male to female, and how it affects the relationship with his lover (with amazing performances by Melvil Poupajd and Suzanne Clément). Laurence Anyways won many awards, including two Cannes Film Festival Awards (the Queer Palm Award and Best Actress for Clément). Lawrence Anyways was also nominated for ten Canadian Screen Awards (winning two), and more importantly, at the Toronto International Film Festival, it won Best Canadian Feature film. Not bad for a local boy.
2013 is when Dolan wore multiple hats in a film. In Tom á la Ferme (Tom at the Farm), Dolan, who wrote, produced, directed and starred, plays Tom, a young man who works in an advertising agency and travels to the Canadian countryside for the funeral of his 25-year-old boyfriend. The problem is that the grieving mother did not know that her son was gay, so she accepts Tom as his friend in the hopes that he can tell her all about her dead son’s life. Meanwhile, the deceased’s brother, 30-year-old Francis (an amazing Pierre-Yves Cardinal), knew that his brother gay but could never really accept it. Conflict, anguish, thought provoking moments, anger, love, and acceptance follow. More acclaim followed Dolan when Mommy was released in 2015. It stars French Canadian actress Anne Dorval who is a widowed mother overwhelmed by her teenage son (Antoine Olivier Pilon – a relevation) and his attention deficit disorder. Dolan wrote, produced and directed Mommy, and it won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and won nine Canadian Screen Awards, including Best Motion Picture.
In the newly released Elephant Song, Dolan, who co-stars along with Bruce Greenwood and Catherine Keneer, plays Michael, a psychologically unwell young man in a mental institution who may or may not have had something to do with the disappearance of his psychiatrist. So it’s up to Greenwood’s Dr. Greene to interview Michael to try to get to the bottom of his colleague’s disappearance. During the interrogation, Michael plays mind games with Dr. Greene, alluding to the fact that he knows where his psychiatrist is but is not quite yet ready to tell. Michael is clearly a very disturbed young man, his very famous opera singer mother all but ignored him, and the one time he spent with his father was when he took him elephant hunting, with the boy Michael crying over his father’s killing of an elephant. And Michael alludes to a sexual relationship that he is having with his psychiatrist, so it’s up to Dr. Greene to take what Michael is saying with a grain of salt. Even the head nurse, Susan Peterson (Keneer), warns Dr. Greene to keep his distance from Michael. It’s a film that at its centrepiece is Dolan, who is perfect as Michael, very good looking yet very mischevious, you don’t know whether you want to hug him or to run away from him. And the film revisits the themes of homosexuality and the lack of acceptance so common in Dolan’s films.
What’s next for Dolan besides conquering the world? He just finished shooting ‘It’s Only the End of the World,’ about a young man who returns home after 12 years to announce his impending death to his family. It stars Marion Cotillard and Vincent Cassel. Dolan will also be shooting his first film in the United States, to be titled The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, in 2016. It’s a fictional story about an actor who is famous for playing a Marvel-style superhero whose life and career are turned upside-down when his private correspondence with an 11-year-old fan is exposed and made to look indecent by a villainous gossip columnist. This one stars Hollywood heavyweights Kit Harrington, Jessica Chastain, and Susan Sarandon. If his previous films are anything to go by, these new films (and his future films) will be eagerly anticipated and will be must sees.