Skip to main content

Director Xavier Dolan, right, Grand Prix award winner for his film "Juste la fin du monde" (It's Only the End of the World), is congratulated by jury member actor Donald Sutherland during the closing ceremony of the 69th Cannes Film Festival on Sunday.YVES HERMAN/Reuters

Canadian film-maker Xavier Dolan has captured the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival for his controversial film Juste la fin du monde (It's Only The End of the World).

The movie – about a gay playwright who returns to his hometown in rural France to announce his impending death – took what is considered the second-highest honour at the prestigious film festival despite getting decidedly mixed reviews from critics.

"An award like this one is unexpected and extremely appreciated," Mr. Dolan said in a teary acceptance speech. "Everything we do in life, we do to be loved, to be accepted. I will make films my whole life, loved or not."

That is far more diplomatic than what he said earlier in the week when he mocked the movie tastes of some of the critics who dissed him and said "Cannes needs to chill out."

The New York Times reported that the announcement of Mr. Dolan's win was booed by the press, who watched the awards ceremony in a live feed from a theatre in the same building.

The top prize at the festival, the Palme d'Or, went to veteran British director Ken Loach for I, Daniel Blake. A film about a widower who suffers a heart attack, it is an open critique of the Britain's austerity measures and its fraying social safety net.

Mr. Dolan had the best showing by a Canadian at Cannes since 1997, when Atom Egoyan captured the Grand Prix.

The 27-year-old director and actor has been the darling of Cannes since his first film, J'ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother), premiered there in 2009.

This year, however, it seemed that the sheen had come off the golden boy as critics labelled It's Only The End of the World a "frequently excruciating dramatic experience (Variety) and "disappointment, even for the Dolan faithful" (Hollywood Reporter).

The Guardian, however, praised it as a "brilliant, stylized and hallucinatory evocation of a family dysfunction."

In his acceptance speech, an emotional Mr. Dolan got in his digs at critics by quoting French novelist Anatole France: "I prefer the folly of enthusiasm to the indifference of wisdom."

As an artist, "you have to remain faithful to yourself no matter what others say about you," he added.

On his left hand, he had written the words: "I must not tell lies."

Mr. Dolan has never been lacking in self-confidence. After he won the jury prize for Mommy in 2014, he told French Vogue magazine: "I have to say I'm disappointed not to have won the Palme d'Or."

Mommy shared the jury prize with French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard. It went on to win a César (France's version of the Oscars) as best foreign film and was a smash hit on the art-house film circuit worldwide.

Five of the six films he has made to date in his prolific career have been on the bill on Promenade de la Croisette.

Mr. Dolan's other films include Les Amours Imaginaires (Heartbeats), Laurence Anyways (which earned an acting prize at Cannes for Suzanne Clément) and Tom à la ferme (Tom At The Farm).

Last year, Mr. Dolan served as a jury member at Cannes.

Mr. Dolan, born in Montreal, is the son of Geneviève Dolan, a teacher, and Manuel Tadros, an Egyptian-born Canadian actor. Mr. Dolan began his acting career as a five-year-old, and continues to act, as well as write scripts, direct and produce movies.

Last year, he also directed the music video for Hello, the hit single by Adele.

It's Only the End of the World, which features an all-star cast of French actors, including Léa Seydoux, Marion Cotillard and Vincent Cassel, is set to open in Canada in September. It is based on the play Juste la fin du monde, by Jean-Luc Lagarce, a French author who died of AIDS in 1995.

Mr. Dolan is already at work on his next feature, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, which will be his first English-language Hollywood movie. It stars Kit Harrington, Jessica Chastain and Natalie Portman.

On Sunday, Ms. Chastain tweeted her congratulations to the Quebec director, writing: "Forever proud of you baby … woohoo!!

Mr. Dolan replied almost immediately: "Thank you honey! I am so so so touched! I can't tell you what the Emotion here is like!"