By James Mottram

Winning the Grand Prix at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, Xavier Dolan’s latest film, It’s Only the End of the World, is an adaptation of a play by the late French playwright Jean-Luc Lagarce, whose reputation rose dramatically following his death from AIDS-related illness in 1995.

It’s Only the End of the World is an adaptation of Lagarce’s 1990 play Juste la fin du Monde and is about a terminally ill writer returning home after a long absence to tell his family that he is dying. The film stars the biggest names in French cinema today: Vincent Cassel, Nathalie Baye, Marion Cotillard, Lea Seydoux and Gaspard Ulliel in the leading role.

We spoke with Xavier Dolan at the Cannes Film Festival.

 You’re 27 years old and you’re already a Cannes veteran. Where do you get the confidence?

The bad reviews haven’t taken anything from the confidence I have in my filmmaking… I don’t think about it when I do it. I never think about anything else but the film. And I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve loved understanding these mistakes and changing them and correcting them and adjusting myself. What’s interesting about reviews is when you try to go past certain critics’ love for all hyphenated meanness and cheap therapy of who you are and not what your work is, sometimes you end up finding things that really make sense. I remember for Lawrence Anyways, for Heartbeats, when everyone says “White” and you said “Black”, there’s something to understand there and you start thinking ‘I was wrong, and they were right.’ But it’s funny because you say I’m a Cannes veteran, it’s very ironic for me to think that way but I guess I have been coming a lot in the past few years. But let’s just stay factual. Ken Loach is a Cannes veteran. I’m not a veteran.

 For someone your age, you’re definitely a veteran. There are no other filmmakers with your track record at that age. 

It has allowed me certainly in the past seven years to realise that the atmosphere has changed. And I think that is mostly because of social media. I think social media has prompted everyone to a very quick response and judgment and hatred is always the easiest path. It’s not normal to know that we are at a festival where two movies or one movie a day is booed. Is this a trend… I feel like this is a serious place where it’s an art of reflecting on films. So people have reflected on filmmaking and then comes a time to reflect on what that filmmaking has become and what came about and what you’re watching. You can’t do that when you exit a theatre. It took me five years to love the play I have just adapted into a film. And guess what? I thought it was a bore when I first read it. I thought it was loud and aggressive.

It’s one of the most exciting French casts ever, and that’s saying a lot. How did you feel when it all came together and when you got them together in a room?

Very exciting. I chose them. I wrote the parts for them. It was certainly complicated to get them all in a room. But we did it. And it was great. There was absolutely no difference between working with them and working with Anne [Dorval] or Suzanne [Clement]. They were as passionate about their work, passionate about precision, passionate about the details. Because precision and the details is everything and they don’t want to repeat themselves. They care for a different part and a different conversation and something more and we were looking for that, relentlessly. There was the same pleasure and the same desire to go beyond what they have done before. This is every director’s fantasy, by the way. They see an actor they admire, like Marion, per se, and they’re like ‘she’s great, she’s fantastic’ but I want her to be really good in my film and I want her to be different and so I wrote parts for them, but also, against them.

You were already acting when you were a child. What are your earliest memories of being an actor?

I was four and we are walking in a church [1994’s Misericorde]. I’m one of the youngest of a family of 12. This was a film about an earlier time. Set in the ‘20s or ‘30s. And I remember walking into that church, and I remember it quite well, actually. I was four or three. I remember exactly where I would get out, through which door to go to the green room, where we would eat and I remember there was this guy who was 14 years old and he would take care of me and I really, really liked him. I was really, really impressed with him.

For what reason? Why were you impressed? 

Because I was in love with him. He was really pretty and he was a teen and I was four years old and he was fourteen and he would take me on his shoulders.

You have very unique tattoos. Is there meaning behind them?  

Well here is one for you. One that is useful this week. “Words are in my not-so-humble opinion our most exhaustible source of magic capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.”

And is that a quote from somebody? 

Someone very important.

Is that Dumbledore?

It’s Dumbledore.

Is there a special time in your life that the tattoo is about?  

Yes. I said something very mean to a friend of mine and I realised how unnecessary that was and that I had crossed the line and I didn’t say it in a malicious way. I just said it like that and it was deprecating and dismissive and I thought, ‘never again’ and it never happened again. I ink when I feel there is a message. Or for a movie or for heartbreak.

Thank you, and don’t take the reviews too seriously. 

Oh well that’s hard. No, in three years when I’m thirty, they’ll finally stop asking me about the fucking age… Or maybe they won’t. I don’t know. I’m not sure they will.

It’s Only the End of the World is available digitally now on iTunes and Dendy Direct.

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