When I spoke to Quebecois director Xavier Dolan at the Cannes Film Festival, he had already given a variety of interviews for his latest film, Heartbeats. Yet of all the questions he’d fielded, mine included, his biggest surprise was that no one had noticed his references to Godard’s muse, Anna Karina. Although it was clear, at least to me, that Dolan’s latest creation is an ode to French New Wave (the similarities to François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim are uncanny).
All of Dolan’s films have a tortured gay theme, and Heartbeats—which the 21-year-old wrote, directed and starred in—is no exception. The story follows a friendship (and its unraveling) between a man and a woman who find themselves competing for the same man. The premiere at Cannes last week received a standing ovation, winning the Regards Jeunes prize, the second year in a row Dolan has won accolades at Cannes. This is what he had to say about his return to the festival…
Is Cannes different this year now that you’re an alumnus?
This year has definitely been more engrossing. The press, the dinners. I’m in a whole new category, which is different than when I was in Director’s Fortnight. But it’s equally engaging. There is a brotherhood that develops.
How does this film debut at Cannes compare with last year’s film, J’ai tue ma mere?
It’s lighter, funnier and less intense that a film about killing my mother.
What made you decide to go in a lighter direction?
Well, it isn’t just one thing. I came up with the idea while on a road trip with friends. We were driving around talking about things that related to us. As a young director, I feel you do films out of ignorance.
Heartbeats has been compared to Truffaut’s Jules et Jim. Was this intentional?
This wasn’t a reference I was trying to make. I just thought that that was the best way to capture a woman, and then as soon as you do that, people start making references to other works. It’s funny because the references I was trying to make, no one has really picked up on, one being Anna Karina.
The film is set in Montreal. Do you identify as a Canadian director?
To be honest, I find I identify more as a director from Quebec than Canada. It is not that one is better than the other, but I feel they are two different worlds.
What are you working on now? Are you going to go for a third year at Cannes?
I am working on a script and will hopefully shoot in the fall. I hope I can come back to Cannes again. It is all a dream, and such an honor to show my work here.