There are events in one’s life, which are mysterious and inexplicable, far from logic and sense. On Saturday evening 21st of May, nothing can foresee what is coming your way. You are drowned in your daily worries and preoccupations and to distract yourself, you sit in front of your TV and watch the talk show that you watch regularly. This week they have a special program dedicated to Cannes Film Festival. You watch the gorgeous guests take their seats, and the host, your beloved Laurent Ruquier, asks his usual questions in his jovial manner. You laugh at some of the jokes, listen to the sometimes dumb questions of the journalists, and eat your dinner; you pass a banal evening. Then, you recognize one of the guests; a quite handsome guy in a cute Louis Vuitton vest, accompanied with a well-known French actress. The night seems to be promising. He is here to present his new film Juste la fin du monde that is in competition at the festival. You remember that his last movie Mommy had given you a slap in the face. You had cried, you had laughed, and you had been transported to another universe for more than two hours, that had seemed too short at the end. You had suffocated your friends to go and see it, and told them that for you it was the best movie of the year; profound, fast-paced, and a visually stunning emotional roller coaster. Two years ago the story had stopped there. Somehow, you were not curious enough to know more about Xavier Dolan’s universe, contenting yourself to wait for his future films.
That Saturday night in front of On n’est pas couché, you don’t know what is going on. You get absorbed into the program. If your scientific mind would allow you to believe in a coup de foudre, specially a transatlantic one across a TV screen, then that is definitely what is happening. This nervous young guy, who cannot stop chewing on his fingernails and playing with his hair, who tries hard to control what’s boiling inside, captivates you with his authenticity, maturity, humanity, and frankness. The contrast between his fragility and determination is very intriguing. He talks passionately about his work and expresses his disappointment about sometimes not being understood correctly. His last movie hasn’t done unanimity among critics. Americans specially, have been quite harsh, calling the movie a “total bore”. To you that doesn’t come as a surprise, typical French stories lacking redundant clichés, requiring some concentration, usually do not fly in this country (OMG they even have to read subtitles). That is just their loss and contributes to their cultural poverty. (Sorry my American friends, had to get this out).
The next day you are following the closing ceremony of Cannes while you are doing your Sunday housecleaning. You cheer for your Iranian countrymen for winning two prizes back to back. Then, as you are busy expressing your joy on facebook, you hear the name of Dolan as the winner of the Grand Prize. He delivers his acceptance speech submerged in an unusual emotion. At some point you wonder if he will be able to finish his talk. His shaking hand and his broken voice betray him, creating an extremely charged moment. The speech is perfect. The message is inspiring. You love the statement “La bataille continue …”, and then comes the ending quotation: “I prefer the foolishness of passion to the wisdom of indifference”. The foolishness of passion …. This fervor that can create the unimaginable, and yet can consume the creator.
When the speech ends, you clap and jump on your sofa. You yell “bravo” as if you are in a rock concert. Ok, maybe at a rock concert you don’t yell “bravo” but something like that. If some pervert neighbor were watching you from the window across, they would think that you have lost it. But who cares. What matters is that by listening to this ambassador of the new generation, mysteriously an old flame revives in you; the flame of wanting to be young again, to live passionately again. You are a forty-two year old woman going through your mid-life crisis; few regrets, few unachieved stories, and lots of questions. The energy and vision of this man helps you see things differently. You realize that you probably lack some things in life, but what you have achieved, you have achieved because you followed your heart. The stories you have lived, even the unfinished ones, are your stories and you lead them your way. At some point, you were also twenty something and like people your age you had dreams and the guts to follow them, but along the way life made you cynical and hopeless. Life lost its color and appeal. At this specific moment, you decide probably unconsciously, that things should change. La bataille must continue forever. There is no place for regrets and stagnation. It is just time to assume your choices and enjoy life as is, and if need be, change few things.
The next day the movie marathon begins. Going from J’ai tué ma mère, to Mommy is like condensing the result of six-year evolution of a person into less than 15 hours. Your favorites are J’ai tué ma mère for its personal story and Mommy for its energy , but every movie, with respect to the time it was conceived, is a chef d’oeuvre, a masterpiece. Masterpieces need not be perfect in technique. A masterpiece is what transports the viewer, asks new questions or old questions in a new way, offers stunning visual propositions, pinches the heart, and leaves a sensation of satisfaction. Emerveillement. Every one of Dolan’s movies are unique, with a tread-line connecting them to each other; unspoken words, buried emotions, and impossible human relationships. All so intimately portrayed and narrated that one lives literally with the characters. One becomes them and feels sympathy even for the cruel ones. A challenge or charm of watching Dolan is the struggle with the Quebecois accent. You hurry to read the subtitles not to miss any acting moment. In general, you prefer to watch movies in their original language. Actors’ own voices tell a lot about the emotions, even if you don’t understand the words. For this very reason, you were once crazy enough (of course when you were young) to consider learning Swedish (imagine!) in order to understand Bergman’s movies. Bergman; another one of your favorite directors, a fabulous conteur of impossible human interactions.
Once you are done with the movies, you attack every single interview and press conference of his. There is a desire to understand the human behind these creations, through of course what he reveals of himself and what his entourage says about him. Some interviews make you laugh. Youth makes the person refreshing with his swear words, his jokes, his simplicity and yet his ability to avoid a misplaced answer. Besides very interesting interviews about his cinema (specially this one in French), his style of directing, his way of working, and your favorite topic: the concept of the “look-book”, you stumble upon a commencement speech he has given recently at a college graduation ceremony as an honorary degree recipient. You envy the students who have him as their speaker. You don’t even remember who spoke at your commencement. Here, you see him differently. Not so much in his element. A bit lost and intimidated, which makes him even more touching. He reflects on the nostalgia of a life not lived; a careless youth that has slipped through his fingers. This has been the price to pay to be where he is now. Life is all about choices. His speech smoothens out after few apologetic sentences and by its sincerity, delivers its powerful message: “The only place attributed to us [in this world] is the one we take with courage blinded by hope”. You wonder how come you are so sensitive to such phrases, you have heard them hundreds of times before, you even tell them to your colleagues and students. The reason is that regardless of one’s age and life experience, one needs to be reminded from time to time how to fight for what he desires and be brought back to the essence of life. You find this speech very appropriate also because at some point he expresses his “confused and lost” state. Students very rarely hear a successful person tell them that he/she has doubts, and how they overcome them. The young generation needs to know that feeling confused and lost, having doubts about our choices is actually a good thing. It’s a sign of a healthy mind. It keeps one grounded. You remember how lost and frustrated you were in your twenties. Not knowing what you wanted from life and what person you wanted to become. It was only in your thirties that you found a sort of appeasement with yourself.
As you watch him read slowly what he has on his paper and shuffle between English and French (it’s complicated to please everyone in Quebec), you imagine yourself at that ceremony. In real life, you are a scientist and you work at a university. You could have very well been at that ceremony. You wonder what you would have told him were you sitting next to him in one of those ridiculous gowns. Probably nothing useful or interesting. In front of his talent and charm, you would have blushed and lost your words. In reaction to his claim that his lack of academic education forces him sometimes to shut up and listen (not to ridicule himself probably), you would wish to return the argument and say that you would prefer to listen to him speak about art, society, life and even Jake Gyllenhaal (!), rather than your nerdy colleagues. Academic education does not necessarily produce interesting people, motivation and perseverance to always know more does, and that is something that he is not lacking. But then, the scholar in you also wishes to tell him to take his time and not go too fast. If for whatever reason he still feels the need to go back to school, then he must. Time can be a cruel bitch. We are so worried not to have enough of it that sometimes we miss living the present moment.
You have a hard time coming back to your present moment; your job and the same old worries. When you land, somehow things do not seem the same. Somehow everything feels lighter, less complicated. You can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. Is your pervert neighbor right and you have totally lost your mind? But then again your life is such; an experience floating between reality and imagination. You have lived two weeks with a person who will probably never know of your existence but he, through his art and his vision, has brought new energy into your life. For this, you are willing to tell him: “Thank you, be happy and stay as you are, Stay hungry stay foolish”.
P.S. Reading this a year later, I realize that I would still like to speak about Jake Gyllenhaal, alas he is no longer a hot topic.