The fact is, there’s never been anyone like Xavier Dolan in the history of Quebec cinema: 25-years-old, five films in five years, the latest one, Mommy, an award-winner at Cannes, and the recipient of nine trophies at the Canadian Screen Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Dolan is a peripatetic writer-director who engages in just about every aspect of a project: he produces, edits, designs costumes, and oversees the promotion. Obviously hard working and totally committed, he is also a playful young man who sparkles with glamour. An actor since childhood, Dolan has star power that seduces both the media and the public. He’s an original who never spouts the political, social, and creative philosophy platitudes typical of certain Quebec filmmakers gone by.
As the Prix-Jutra show ramped up, most observers were convinced that even though Dolan’s disturbing, high-flying, breath-taking Mommy was up against some good movies, particularly Stépahne Lafleur’s deadpan comedy Tu dors Nicole, it would most probably take all the major awards. This prospect distressed some people in the industry, especially during a period when many Québec movies are both lackluster and tanking at the box-office. As the night unfolded, the predictions of the various pundits proved to be true. At one point actor Antoine Bertrand called the event “Le Gala des Prix Mommy.”
Not only was Mommy the year’s biggest artistic success, and the year’s top money-earner, Dolan is now poised to jump to another level with his first English-language picture, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, which he wrote with another young actor-writer-director, Jacob Tierney. The movie will star Jessica Chastain, who has befriended Dolan, Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, and Kit Harington, (Jon Snow in Game of Thrones). It’s a huge turning point for an artist who is firing on all cylinders, and there’s never been a Jutra moment like this before.
By tradition, the first award announced is for Best Supporting Actress, and repeating what happened in Toronto at the beginning of the month, the Jutra went to Suzanne Clément for Mommy. The actress, who appeared in Dolan’s I Killed My Mother and starred in his Laurence Anyways, seemed breathless, excited, and a little scattered as she accepted the prize. Dressed simply in a white skirt and black sleeveless top, she connected strongly with the audience, which roared its approval, happy to see her win. Immediately following, Mommy was awarded the prize for the most successful film outside Québec.
After a few Jutras that didn’t go to Mommy, Dolan won for Best Screenplay. On stage he appeared subdued and serious in a dark suit, thanking his father, an Egyptian-born actor and calling his Quebecoise mother his “inspiration.”
Immediately following the screenplay award, the brilliant cinematographer and sometime director André Turpin (pictured) picked up his Jutra for Best Cinematography for Mommy, which deploys a radically narrow aspect ratio that suggests Instagram or cell phone footage. (The Rihanna-Kanye West-Paul McCartney video Four-Five Seconds seems to have been inspired by Mommy’s format).
Another unusual feature of the 2015 Prix-Jutra was the fact that Dolan competed against himself with his darkly comic thriller, Tomà la ferme, which took a best The Best Supporting Actor prize for Pierre-Yves Cardinal.
When it was all over Mommy had taken 10 Jutra Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Antoine Olivier Pilon), Best Actress (Anne Dorval), and the Cineplex Billet d’or, which is given to the Québec film that earns the most at the box office. In their acceptance speeches, Dolan and Pilon were more coolly dignified than spilling over with emotion although Dolan did make a loving speech about Quebec cinema and society, which he said never lies and is always passionate.
One of the evening’s emotional highlights was Anne Dorval’s onstage appearance. Close to Dolan, and the woman he has called his muse since their first collaboration in I Killed My Mother, she tearfully thanked him for “everything you gave me.” For sure, Dolan’s uncanny ability to work with actors has unleashed her talent. “She wanted to do something as far away as possible from my first film and from herself,” Dolan told me when Mommy screened at TIFF. And certainly the emotionally volatile, working class, spike heels and tight jeans-wearing eternal teenager she plays in Mommy is far removed from Dorval’s real life as an Outremont artiste.
The other big emotional moment was veteran moviemaker André Melançon’s acceptance of his Prix-Hommage honour. Best known for the children’s films La guerre des tuques and Bach et Bottine, Melançon has been struggling with serious illness. He delivered an impassioned speech that touched on the importance of cinema for Québec society, and then as a hommage to La guerre des tuques the audience got pelted with what looked like a deluge of snowballs.
The Ricardo Trogi feature 1987 picked up three Jutras for Best Artistic Direction, Best Costumes and Best Hair. It was nominated for Best Picture as was the black and white Tu dors Nicole, honoured with Jutra Awards for Best Sound and Best Original Music.