Xavier Dolan’s Masterclass: the 3 Questions He Learned to Ask Himself While Filming
Beating any other filmmakers at being productive, challenging and successful, french Canadian 25 years- Xavier Dolan, who won Cannes Jury Prize with his fifth feature film, Mommy, gave a 2h Masterclass at the Forum des Images last week in Paris.
Dolan lives and breathes filmmaking -as his fast and furious filmography can prove- and he is very clear and articulated about what he wants, who he is, and where he is coming from as an artist. His first directorial debut was at the age of 19, with ‘J’ai Tué Ma Mère‘, and since then, Dolan hasn’t stopped making films and inevitably learning from them.
The full masterclass is fascinating and a must if you understand French. I was planning on doing a masterclass highlights a-la-Haneke, but decided to got Kurosawa style instead, and focus first on one aspect of the conversation I thought particularly interesting: the evolution in Dolan’s approach to directing. (The highlights will still come though, fear not)
Psychological thriller Tom à la Ferme, Dolan fourth film, was a big departure from his previous body of work as it was built on visual sobriety when Dolan is known for his lush aesthetic. Dolan says himself that he felt he was going back to being himself on Mommy but that something had definitely changed in the way he worked.
During Mommy’s shooting he was constantly asking himself these three questions:
1 – Do we need that? (what does this framing do to the story? does the story need it?)
2- Is the character hurt?
3 – How is the audience supposed to react to that?
Dolan started asking himself these questions for the first time while editing his third feature film, Lawrence Anyways, and explains that they were not part of his process during his first two films:
‘At some point, you need to learn to see what people see. You don’t just make films for yourself, we make movies so people can see them. If everybody sees black when we see white, if everybody sees too much when we see too little, there is something interesting there. (…) You have to learn – and I think I learned how to do it now- how to ask yourself the right questions, and try to find out how people are going to perceive the film, how they are going to criticize it, how they are going to see it and feel it above all.’