Xavier Dolan: Crossing Over

5.13.2013

By Adam Rathe

With his epic transgender love story, 'Laurence Anyways,' indie filmmaker Xavier Dolan takes his place at the table. Just don’t call him an activist.

Photography by Caitlin Cronenberg \ Shot at The Bowery Hotel Wine Room

The first time Xavier Dolan dressed up in women’s clothing, he was 5 years old. “I did it a lot between 5 and 12,” the filmmaker recalls over breakfast the morning of his 24th birthday. “But we all do that. And I’m not talking only about gay men -- we all do that.”

While on this particular day Dolan sports a tweed blazer and perfectly scruffy facial hair, looking like the poster boy of modernly masculine, intellectual cool, it’s a less distinct and far more gripping representation of gender that’s been dominating his thoughts lately. This June sees the U.S. release of Dolan’s third feature film, Laurence Anyways, a vast, vital, and heartrending movie that follows its titular character through the 1990s as she transitions from male to female and attempts to hold on to her on-again, off-again lover. Still, Dolan insists that the drama, which won the Queer Palm at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, is about its characters’ lives and fates rather than politics. “It’s not a transgender story,” he says. “It’s a love story.”

Dolan is hesitant to embrace the mantle of the Next Important Queer Filmmaker. True, the Quebec native’s first major projects, 2009’s I Killed My Mother and 2010’s Heartbeats, portrayed gay characters tangled up in provocative, erotically charged plotlines, as will his forthcoming thriller, Tom at the Farm. And none other than Gus Van Sant, queer cinema’s éminence grise, has signed on to executive produce Laurence. But Dolan bristles at the idea of being lumped in with other gay auteurs.

“There’s no such thing as queer cinema,” he declares. “My generation has sexual, sensual, and sentimental boundaries that are completely different from those of the generations that precede us. It’s time to get the Liquid Paper out and erase some of those labels, because no one wants to be an ambassador for a ghetto.”

He continues, “I’ve never been coy about or ashamed of being gay, but I’ve been making a relentless effort, since the first scene of I Killed My Mother, to avoid claiming things. These movies are not fights for rights, they’re movies.”

Tags: Movies
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