Why Xavier Dolan doesn’t care what critics think

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 20 May 2016
  • Xavier Dolan

Critics at Cannes have their claws out for Xavier Dolan's latest melodrama It's Only the End of the World. It's currently the worst reviewed films at the festival, but the Québécois writer-director isn't sweating it

So, you’re Xavier Dolan and you’re 27 years old with six feature films under your belt. Your first, I Killed My Mother, which you wrote when you were 16, screened at Cannes and won three awards. Your fifth, Mommy, premiered at the same festival in the main competition and you share the Jury Prize with Jean-Luc Godard. Your latest film, It's Only the End of the World, starring Cannes favourites Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel and Léa Seydoux, is screening in competition again. What’s the worst that could happen? Total catastrophe according to the critics who saw the film on Wednesday.

When you’re at the top of your game, there’s only one way you can go: down. And looking at the reviews coming out of Cannes, this talented young filmmaker has fallen hard. It’s “the most disappointing film at Cannes” according to Variety. AV Club’s Mike D'Angelo described it as “one of those dysfunctional-family angstfests that one finds either powerfully cathartic or nigh-well intolerable. I fall into the latter camp.” Most blunt was Little White Lies’s David Jenkins, who simply tweeted a picture of the Hindenburg engulfed in flames.

Will this dent Dolan’s considerable ego? Not in the slightest. He’s already come out in the face of this critical drubbing. “I’m happy to be in Cannes with these people whom I love and this film, which I considered to be my best,” he said at the film’s press conference with his trademark grin.

We’re not too surprised at his response. When we interviewed Dolan at the Venice Film Festival in 2013, we asked him about his reaction to criticism. Does he take it well?

“Yes, I do take criticism well,” he says with a tone that suggests the exact opposite, "and I’ve taken it for five years now. People coming in the editing room, telling me ‘that sucks’. Leave it, drop it, delete it.”

Do you? “I do.”

Really? “I’d say 85% of what people say, they’re my friends, they’re people who mean well, they’re thinking of the movie and of me, and they’re looking out for me.”

What about the criticism after the release? “After... after I do not react well to personal attacks. I think they are the plague of journalism and cinematic criticism. They have no place at all in the art of criticism, which I admire. I have tonnes and tonnes of books at home on criticism, the art of review. I love to read reviews. I read all the reviews from my films. Most of the time I’m like, ‘Mmm, interesting, OK.’ Some of them are well-written. Now, reading a critic who is trying to hurt your feelings and not review your film is absolutely irrelevant. It’s not interesting. It’s not ethical. I don’t give a shit.”