Quebecois filmmaking wunderkind Xavier Dolan had dazzled critics with his first five directorial efforts including “I Killed My Mother,” “Heartbeats,” “Laurence Anyways,” “Tom at the Farm” and “Mommy”. He then got the wind knocked out of him with 2016’s “It’s Only the End of the World” which premiered at Cannes to a muted critical response – though won the Jury Prize.
After that he began work on his first English-language feature with “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan,” a film about a pen-pal relationship that develops between a young boy and a closeted TV star and how that long-distance friendship gets misinterpreted and ultimately leads to a tragic consequence.
The project pulled in an impressive cast including Kit Harington, Jessica Chastain, Thandie Newton, Natalie Portman, Susan Sarandon, Jacob Tremblay and Ben Schnetzer. The film reportedly had production troubles and delays, stumbling in editing as Dolan struggled to whittle it down to a manageable length – cutting whole characters and subplots in the process.
A 123-minute cut premiered in Toronto last year to scathing reviews which sunk chances of a major release. Now, with the film finally opening in cinemas somewhere – in this case Canada on August 23rd – Dolan has spoken with Globe and Mail about it. He revealed his original cut came in at a lengthy four hours long, effectively double the version being released now, and getting it down to a regular runtime caused much of the delay:
“I shot the film that I wrote, but the film that I wrote was a 160-page script that made no choices. You now want to focus on something [the editing] that I’ve been focusing on for two years and I don’t know how inspired I can be to talk about that. I usually edit movies in two months, not two years. It was at times brutal and invigorating to rediscover something you think you know by heart.”
Dolan also says it was his early interest in actor Leonardo DiCaprio that led to the genesis of ‘Donovan’, saying he himself sent the then-rising actor a fan letter:
“‘Titanic’ is not just the film I loved as a child, it’s the beginning of many things,” Dolan said. “Probably a sexual awakening, but also a cultural awakening, a cinematic awakening and a life awakening in that I realized how ambitious the film was. It inspired me to consider all the options I had artistically – that I could act, design clothes, even shoot films. None of these options had ever seemed possible before.”
In recent times Dolan shot and finished the indie French-language drama “Matthias & Maxime” which has scored acclaim on the fest circuit so far this year. Both ‘Donovan’ and ‘Matthias’ have yet to secure U.S. releases.