Entertainment

Xavier Dolan says new film 'It's Only the End of the World' not an AIDS drama

Director Xavier Dolan attends a press conference to promote his latest film in Montreal, Tuesday, September 13, 2016. In adapting the play

Director Xavier Dolan attends a press conference to promote his latest film in Montreal, Tuesday, September 13, 2016. In adapting the play "It's Only the End of the World," Montreal filmmaker Dolan steered clear of the notion the protagonist has AIDS.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

TORONTO — In adapting the play "It's Only the End of the World," Montreal filmmaker Xavier Dolan steered clear of the notion the protagonist has AIDS.

"The play certainly was tending towards, of course, that," said Dolan, who won the Grand Prix prize — the second-most prestigious award — at last May's Cannes Film Festival for the French-language drama, about a writer who returns home to tell his estranged family he's dying.

"Jean-Luc Lagarce, who's the playwright, died of AIDS (complications). So it was something inherently associated with the play itself."

But the 27-year-old writer-director said he saw it more as a story "about our incapacity to love and communicate with each other and listen to each other and was not about an illness."

Thus there is no mention of AIDS or exactly what terminal illness plagues the lead character, a gay writer played by Gaspard Ulliel.

Some articles have suggested the character's condition is indeed AIDS, but Dolan insisted that's not the case: "No, not at all."

"I just didn't feel like this was the theme of the film and that I needed something that dramatic, historically, so that the film would be relevant, so that the film would feel like it belongs in a category, like it has a social mandate or mission," Dolan said in an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival.

"The mission of this film is to show human characters who are unable to listen to each other and say 'I love you.' So I made a choice, I guess. It's not cowardice.... I would say it wasn't a lack of courage, it was a lack of interest."

Hitting theatres Friday in Toronto after Wednesday's opening in Quebec, the film also stars Nathalie Baye as the writer's glamorous mother and Vincent Cassel and Lea Seydoux as his unhinged siblings.

Marion Cotillard plays his sister-in-law, the only calming presence in the volatile family filled with resentment and grief.

The tension builds as Dolan uses tight close-up shots throughout.

"The characters are hateable and despicable, but underneath all those layers of aggression and bitterness, there is pain," said Dolan, a rising star who is now shooting his first English-language film, "The Death and Life of John F. Donovan," with an A-list cast.

Dolan has brought some of his own personal experiences to his previous acclaimed films, which have included "I Killed My Mother," "Heartbeats" and "Mommy."

But this is his least personal film, he said.

"I don't travel that much and I'm rather close with my family and we're on very good terms," said Dolan. "Evidently, from reading a couple of reviews, I understand that people think this is a fantasy film, me projecting myself in a world where I would die.

"I'm not dying and that exercise is completely irrelevant. I wouldn't waste time doing that consciously or unconsciously. There are so many beautiful things for me in that play, there were so many beautiful things to explore other than myself or my own life."

Dolan said this is favourite film. But then again, he says that about all his projects, he added.

"Making a film is long, it's a lot of time, it's a lot of energy, it's a lot of love, it's a lot of frustrations, it's mental health, on-again, off-again gone, it's missing your loved ones, it's a lot of sacrifices," he said. 

"It's too demanding and it's too much for it to be in the end, your least favourite work or not your best. It would be terrible for me to come to that conclusion."