Xavier Dolan’s latest Cannes competition entry, “It’s Only the End of the World,” had its premiere last night at the Croisette, and the reaction was far from favorable . Just 27 years old, the Quebecois writer-director has already made as many films as Terrence Malick has over his entire career. 2014’s “Mommy” catapulted the young filmmaker into international acclaim, which resulted in high expectations for his latest film which, given the reaction in the south of France, disappointed many.
At this afternoon’s press conference, Dolan and his cast (which includes Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel and Léa Seydoux) seemed unfazed by the film’s negative reviews, and the young director proclaimed it his “most complete film,” going on to say, “Maybe it takes a little while for the film to come to life and for people to not only watch it, but to listen to it. But to me, this is my best film.”
The confidence he displayed to the media this afternoon was Kanye West-esque: a man who believes in his vision not bothered by negative reaction. “That’s something you should always believe,” Dolan said. “How can you move forward and proceed with things you’ve committed so much time to if you don’t think they’re the best?”
“There are also some great reviews that have been published,” he added with a bit of pique.
Based on Jean-Luc Lagarce’s play of the same name, the film stars Gaspard Ulliel as a terminally ill writer who decides to return home after a long absence to tell his quirky, dysfunctional family that he is going to die. Dolan’s love for the play is obvious, so much so that he banked on this adaptation amidst skyrocketed post-“Mommy” expectations. “What’s most gripping in Lagarce’s text is how nervous all the characters are and how they express things often that are very superficial or useless,” he explained.
It took a bit of time for Ulliel to get used to the non-stop feedback Dolan is known for giving during a shoot. “At first, it can feel a bit too interventionist, but it becomes very rewarding and passionate,” the actor said. “He’s with us every second, capturing our every move.”
Meanwhile, Seydoux complemented her co-star’s statement by calling Dolan “very precise, and since he’s also an actor himself, the communication between us was very fluid. He makes us want to give everything. We love Xavier and we all want to be loved by him,” she said.
Cassel agreed. “Xavier is extremely precise — a year before the shoot, everything was ready, even the lighting. But then during the shoot itself he gave us some freedom.”
“I loved the film,” Cotillard added.
Some critics have complained that the director underused the talented Cotillard by giving her a background role that never fully delivers on her potential. The actress’ rebuttal? “My character Catherine says very little, but when she talks it’s as if a flood of incoherences came out of her mouth: it’s mostly aborted sentences and redundancies. At first I was terrified by my text and then I understood that her monologues were like the sound of silence,” said Cotillard.
Dolan says the movie is more about the “messages that are not in the language, but in the silence and looks in the characters’ faces.” He went on to say that he was drawn to this project because it was about human imperfections. “In real life people cry, people scream. They talk about everything except what they really feel.” Dolan admitted he was nervous during the press conference, but stated, “I come from a popular environment. I don’t have a deep knowledge of auteur cinema. My wish as a director has always been to make films that I would like to see in theaters.”
Dolan is already working on his follow-up to “It’s Only the End of the World,” which will also be his American directorial debut. “The Life of John F. Donovan,” starring Jessica Chastain, Kit Harington, Taylor Kitsch, Kathy Bates, Susan Sarandon, Natalie Portman, Nicholas Hoult, andThandie Newton is gearing up to shoot this summer.
It was bound to happen. Nicolas Winding Refn’s press conference at Cannes this morning was far and away the most entertaining of the fest, and perhaps not a surprise given that “The Neon Demon” was met at last night’s screening with not only boos, but insults hurled at the screened as credits rolled. And although a big chunk of the crowd did in fact despise the film, they would never want it another way. It’s part of the festival’s DNA, to have at least one film that will leave an audience in a state of disapproving, epic anger. The uber-stylish movie, starring Elle Fanning,centers on an aspiring model in Los Angeles whose beauty and youthfulness starts stealing jobs from some of the best models in town, much to their dismay.
Defending “The Neon Demon,” Refn described it as “a film to penetrate your mind and absorb whatever you think it is, which is the essence of creativity.” He in fact considers the boos a very “punk rock” badge of honor. “Look at the reactions. You can’t deny it, it’s search and destroy…,” he said making a Stooges reference. “Whatever you got, I’ll tear it down and build it again. Don’t compromise on life or anything, that’s where you feel life. That’s what’s important to get across to those teenagers out there.”
The film, just like his previous one, “Only God Forgives,” brings a minimalist and detached approached to its storytelling. The thinly laced narrative structure came up at the press conference with the 45 year-old writer-director proclaiming a new age in cinema. “Art is no longer about good or bad, guys,” he confidently voiced. “Those days are over…This is fuck-the-establishment youth culture.”
**Spoiler** A scene that has already been forever etched in memories of those who have seen the film features Jena Malone having sex with a corpse. “It kind of escalated into this really intense necrophilia scene,” Refn said of the sequence. After Malone’s final kiss on the corpse, the director yelled cut, and declared to the actress, “We found the character. Now go with God.”**End Spoiler**
The film’s depiction of the fashion industry is scathing, with Refn observing that “beauty – it’s an obsession that has only grown. Even though we try to politicize it, the digital revolution has sped up man’s evolution to the extreme. The idea of the movie when I talked to Elle Fanning was ‘Let’s make a movie about the obsession of beauty.’ It’s in our social media, TV, movies — what’s gonna happen when longevity no longer exists? When the definition of beauty shrinks and shrinks, and becomes younger?”
In the film, Fanning’s model is only sixteen, but is told by her agent (Christina Hendricks) to lie that she’s 19 years old because “18 is too on-the-nose.” The depiction of talent agencies wanting fresh, almost baby-looking faces is both troubling and stingingly satirical in the hands of Refn. “I’m not an expert and in no way can I critique that world, but any environment that focuses on how you look is extremely harsh. It comes down to: How were you born? That’s a horrible world to live in because it must be terrifying, living where the reality is so extreme, and at the same time it’s intoxicating. But we didn’t make the movie to comment or politicize.”
The most entertaining portion of the press conference occurred when the topic of fellow Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier came up. As you might recall, a few years ago, following von Trier’s controversial Cannes press conference for “Melancholia” where he got in hot water and (temporarily) banned from the Croisette for his poor Nazi comment/joke, Refn didn’t have much sympathy.
“…the thing about Lars is that he’s getting old and his comedy routine is a bit tiresome,” he said of the director at the time. And this isn’t just one director digging at another, as the pair share a family connection — Refn’s father has been von Trier’s longtime editor.
As for von Trier, he didn’t take those comments lightly, and when asked about what Refn said, he stated, “I’ve known him since he was a kid! Fuck him.” Well, it looks like the heat between the pair hasn’t settled one bit.
After a reporter asked why he thinks Danish filmmakers such as himself and von Trier tend to push actors to their breaking point, Refn replied, “Well, Lars is Lars. He’s over the hill,” as the audience nervously chuckled.
“He’s done a lot of drugs,” he said of the recovering alcoholic, adding that the last time he saw von Trier, the director tried to sleep with Refn’s wife, which had the press room going into complete, hysterical laughter. To put the icing on the cake, Refn quipped, “Now he’s found some other slut.” This probably won’t be the last we hear from either Refn or von Trier about each other, but it seems that the provocateurs are just as keen to push each other’s buttons, as they are their audiences.