A mildly bratty puppy with a shock of hair that looks like it’s being tugged at by the gods, French-Canadian Xavier Dolan is a director/writer/producer/actor with a vision.
His first film, the semi-autobiographical squabble fest I Killed My Mother, won awards at Cannes two years ago, when he was only 20. His new one, Heartbeats, pits man against friend in a gasp of shimmery narcisissm. Dolan cast himself as a young man with a gal pal, both sharing a neurotic obsession with an enigmatic guy they meet on the road to unhappiness. With saturated colors, camera zooms, and documentary-like talking heads musing on obsession, it’s a neo–New Wavey love romp with lots to say.
At the Mercer Kitchen, I butted shocks of hair with Dolan, but very stylishly.
Me: Hello, Xavier. The characters in your film may be superficial, but I feel the film is profound.
Dolan: That’s what I think. Since I’m very young, critics tend to think I’m not capable of having every idea myself. Every choice is a mistake. “And it’s style over substance.” I don’t see why this is a flaw. And I don’t totally agree. I wouldn’t say the film is lacking any depth. It’s stylish and campy, but so what? It’s what I wanted to do. It’s about two people infatuated with a perfect stranger who’s beautiful but banal and uninteresting.
Me: Been there.
Dolan: Bought the T-shirt. The characters are not in anything concrete. All they want is to be loved. If it’s not him, it’s bound to be another, as long as it’s out of reach.
Me: Your film took me back to certain Godard classics. Intentional?
Dolan: I haven’t seen Contempt or Two or Three Things I Know About Her. Critics say, “He’s seen the films. We get it!” But I haven’t.
Me: None of them?
Dolan: I’ve seen three Godard films. Band of Outsiders seemed profoundly long. I’m more about Truffaut. But Heartbeats is absolutely not an homage to Jules et Jim. It’s not a love triangle, it’s a love duel!
Me: Speaking of which: Do you still have issues with your mother?
Dolan: It’s not issues. It’s a matter of incompatibility. We get along pretty well—under three hours.
Me: That’s pretty long by American standards. Some parents are even less gay-friendly. By the way, you once said you don’t want to be labeled a “gay director” because being gay is only one part of you, like hair color. But you can change your hair color, no?
Dolan: Is this your way of asking if I’m going to turn straight?
Me: No. But are you?
Dolan: I’m gay. I’ve always been. But it doesn’t define my craft or style. I don’t have any craft or style! What defines my films is the story. I want to be a great storyteller. Not a gay director. Not a director. I’m a storyteller! A Serious Man is not a Jewish film, and Romeo and Juliet is not a straight film. Heartbeats is a love story, and one of the characters is gay. It’s not a gay film and I’m not a gay filmmaker. Is everything you write gay?
Me: Yeah, pretty much. [Pause.] Anyway, let me shift gears here. You do so much on your films, sometimes down to the costumes and art-direction supervision. Would you ever delegate power?
Dolan: A painter doesn’t delegate.
Me: What about Warhol?
Dolan: He’s dead.
Me: Not to me.
Dolan: Good for him. But cinema is a form of photography and art, and I don’t feel I want to work with 100 assistants.
Me: Well, when Hollywood calls, you can answer the call yourself. Will you accept?
Dolan: Yeah, sure, but I’ll want to be famous and respected enough to be able to do my film.
Me: Of course! You’re a storyteller!
Riding the Bus With My Sisters
Have I got a gay story for you! The billboard for Priscilla Queen of the Desert is far from upfront—it shadily features the three singing divas who narrate the musical rather than the three drags who star in it—but the bus is certainly out of the closet, and judging from a sampling presented to the press last week, the musical is gayer than a Thai restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen. Within just 15 minutes, I caught a choreographed bit that re-creates buttfucking, a disco ode to a young character who asphyxiated to death from peroxide fumes, and, of course, the inclusion of the movie’s famous line about “a cock in a frock on a rock.” And it’s the second show in the last year that interpolates “I Say a Little Prayer”!
Director Simon Phillips explained why he feels Priscilla’s jukebox score not only makes sense but elevates the genre to an art form. “After all,” he said, “drag is about appropriating someone else’s song and claiming it as your own.” That doesn’t mean such songs always work in terms of plot and character development, but in this case it certainly makes for a kitschy coup on the barbie, especially when Will Swenson lip-synchs, along with two puppets he maneuvers, to a live singing voice.
Just when we thought we’d reached the apogee of camp, a guy dressed as a giant cupcake ran into the room as the event wound down, saying, “Sorry I’m late. I was getting my tits frosted.” That’s the problem with delegating power!