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Contribution : "The turmoils of Xavier Dolan’s image in the medias" by Justine Ducos

Cannes Film Festival 2014 blessed and launched the international, critical and commercial carrier of his movie called Mommy. Yet, Xavier Dolan and the medias have a troubled relationship. Feedback on the image of a nowadays creator.

Media thunderbolt

With I Killed my mother in 2009, Xavier Dolan, 19-year-old provoked excitement during the ‘Quinzaine des Réalisateurs’ of Cannes Film Festival. Journalists defined  him as a “child prodigy”. Heartbeats, presented a year after in ‘Un Certain Regard’ category makes him a “conqueror” according to the words used by ‘Les Cahiers du Cinéma’. He had an unanimous support from the film critics and they praised his talent which unveils from one film to another. His aura goes beyond the film-lovers to take over magazine covers by storm: “child prodigy of the Canadian cinema” for ‘Les Inrocks’, “Dolan films like a poet” according to ‘Première’, “terrible child and incredible filmmaker” for “Le Figaro”.

Selected for the official competition of Cannes Festival 2014, Mommy was no exception to the rule. Dolan won the Jury’s Price. His speech created excitement as it was perceived as a message of hope for the youth: “I believe everything is possible to those who dream, dare, work and never give up[1]. The media and critical coronation helped him to win the status of a general public icon. According to Philippe Couture, critic for ‘Voir’ in Quebec: “That perception of a hero, of a self-made man is fed by the medias. It is the way they portray him as a hero that contributes to grow this perception of him”.

His frank cinema, filled with the frenzy of his youth, fed by a strong emotional intensity, found its popular success as Helen Faradji, critic at ‘Radio Canada’ and ’24 Images’ demonstrates: “Everyone can find what they are looking for. He talks to the parents, to the film-lovers because there is an incredible formal work, to people who don’t have a child, because it’s a great love movie”. Beyond the movie, Dolan’s vitality seduces and he becomes pervasive. His image evolves and magazine covers are multiplying, describing him in glowing terms: “gifted person”, “respected filmmaker”, “phenomenon”, “powerful seduction weapon”.

Such an extremely fast ascent didn’t happen since Quentin Tarantino’s Palme d’Or for Pulp Fiction. According to Helen Faradji the two artists are very similar: “They are both rock star filmmakers. They have a strong personality. They are big-mouthed. It doesn’t please everybody (…) Dolan has lots of charisma and doesn’t hesitate to say things that are never said and it gives him an extremely strong front-line position in the media”. For instance, in 2012 when his movie Laurence Anyways is selected for ‘Un Certain Regard’ he doesn’t hesitate to say that he is disappointed of not being in the official competition…

His renown gives him a certain power. He seizes it to support several causes such as the ‘Printemps Érable’ in 2012 when he defended Quebecois education or when he argues for the revision of the Law 31 on bilingualism in Quebec in 2014: “There is a desire of preserving by the exclusion in this law, and we can’t preserve a language in preventing people to speak other languages. For me it’s a lack of culture. It’s fear[2].

In 5 years, Dolan has been able how to create his marvellous community” as Nathalie Heinich implies around his “charismatic personality which is very present in the media regime[3]. However, the adulated picture of the artist also has its darker side with polemics that he estimates “orchestrated”.

Disinformation, sensationalism: the revers of the media coverage

For the journalists who are lost in sensational information, Dolan is an attractive target: a child of cinema, of great integrity in his movies and in his life. However, he doesn’t hesitate to give them an answer. It was the case when he gave an interview to ‘TVA Nouvelles’ when he was asked about the absence of Mommy in competition for the Oscars 2015 he declared, “it’s a bit ostracized and a bit humiliating”. Seeing his purpose taken back and misrepresented, he published an opinion column in the Huffington Post soberly entitled “The Silence”, “facing that type of disinformation, keeping quiet means insulting journalism profession for which my admiration is equalled only by the violence I feel when it is corrupted by a mean sensationalist and a silly demagoguery[4].

Journalists focus more on the icon than its work. The development of visibility that the medias gives him, even if it’s equivocal, creates a certain infatuation, more on the public figure than on his work according to Philippe Couture, “There is this new trend of making him a glossy magazine star who is posing on the front cover, without always taking a look at his movies, turning him into an icon, putting him on the spot more than his movies. His strong personality incites this attitude of the medias”. This symptomatic gap between notoriety and nowadays star-system is well explained by Nathalie Heinich: “The ambivalence of mediation appears to be the counterpart of the ambivalence of the visibility in itself”.

She erases authenticity by putting out the news as performance. Indeed, “it’s not the visibility in itself which is inauthentic, so bad, but its mediation by the mediatisation”. Xavier Dolan’s mediatisation confirm this tendency, but the artist obviously has a potential work to deny it.

Justine Ducos, Master 1 Publics de la culture et communication, Université d'Avignon

Picture : Olivier Gariépy.

[1] Xavier Dolan’s speech when he received the Jury’s Price for Mommy, May 23rd 2014

[2] Thomas SOTINEL, « Un surdoué devenu cinéaste respecté », Le Monde, 18 septembre 2014, [on line]

[3] Nathalie Heinich, Grand résumé de De la Visibilité. Excellence et singularité en régime médiatique, Paris, Éditions Gallimard, 2012

[4] Xavier Dolan, « Le Silence », Huffington Post, 18 février 2015, [on line]