Patrick Lagacé is a columnist with La Presse.
Xavier Dolan is a brat. Those who have crossed his path will attest that the Quebec-born filmmaker can sometimes be insufferable. But then again, who wouldn't be, in his place?
He's described as a genius. His first movie, the self-financed feature film J'ai tué ma mère, made it all the way to the glamorous Cannes Film Festival, where he has become not only a fixture, but a contender. His latest film, Mommy, won the Cannes Jury Prize (and was rumoured as a contender for the Palme d'Or).
All that and he's just 25.
In France, Quebeckers have a reputation that is akin to the American view of English Canadians: humble and good-natured people. Not so with Mr. Dolan, an opinionated young man who refuses to ask permission before speaking his mind, and poses for every French magazine and newspaper that will oblige him, lip curled like a rock star.
"There is something of an American in his attitude," says Marc Cassivi, a cultural critic at La Presse who has covered Mr. Dolan's adventures in Quebec and France. "He is not afraid of anything. When he tells you about his next film, he says it's gonna be huge, and as you sit there listening to him, you think he's putting on a show. But more often than not … he's right."
Mr. Dolan is hardly the first Quebec director to be hailed abroad: Denys Arcand is a three-time nominee for best foreign film at the Oscars (he won in 2004 for The Barbarian Invasions, which also won best screenplay in Cannes), Jean-Marc Vallée directed the sleeper hit Dallas Buyers Club (which won three times at the 2014 Oscars) and Denis Villeneuve, who directed Incendies (nominated in the best foreign movie category at the 2011 Oscars) as well as Prisoners and Enemy, both well-received in Hollywood.
But there is no doubt about Mr. Dolan. The French film industry is hot for the young Quebecker, and if he ever wants to shoot a film for our "cousins," he would only have to raise a finger. So far, however, he has chosen to remain in Quebec. "And he makes movies not in the 'international French' that would be understood almost everywhere in the francophonie, no, he makes them in joual, in a patois that made me happy that Mommy was subtitled in Cannes!" says Mr. Cassivi, noting that the film's box-office opening in France was very promising.
For some of Quebec's more right-wing commentators, Mr. Dolan is elitism in a nutshell, with his "difficult" movies tackling "serious" issues (family relations, sexual identity). But it's quite the opposite, if you ask me: His are stories of modest people, often of modest means. He grew up alongside such people and has a fondness for them.
People who know a thing or two about movies say Mr. Dolan is a prodigy, a genius. I don't know a thing about movies. But what endears him to me is his total lack of shyness about his talent, his views and the pleasure he takes in being in the limelight. That is very much not Québécois. In that sense, he embodies a new generation of young people from this province who have no hangups, who don't think they were né pour un petit pain – "born for bread crumbs" – the traditional saying here to describe Quebec as a backward society.
Being outspoken about one's opinions is a rarity in a province where consensus is king. At Cannes in 2012, Mr. Dolan wore a red square on his lapel in support of the student movement that shook Quebec that year. When a columnist writes something that he deems unfair, Mr. Dolan takes to his blog to lambaste the offender. Being a visitor to a foreign land doesn't seem to restrain him – Mr. Dolan, who is gay, had very harsh words on French radio this week for French people demonstrating against same-sex rights.
In that sense, Mr. Dolan is quintessentially un-Québécois and un-Canadian. He doesn't say "Sorry" when you step on his toes.
Mr. Cassivi recalls how a decade ago, when Mr. Dolan was just a teen, he would see him at press screenings for new movies, trailing after his aunt, Le Devoir film critic Odile Tremblay. "Xavier would say that he was a screenwriter. I thought it was presumptuous, and it made me laugh a bit, I must say."
Nobody's laughing now.