Xavier Dolan in Elephant Song: TIFF Review
Jonathan Leibson/ Getty
Xavier Dolan's duelling enfant terrible and wunderkind personas have become his trademark, often overshadowing his immense talent. Remember, this 25-year-old won the Cannes Jury Prize for his fifth film, Mommy, in May, but barely eight months earlier, he bit back at an unflattering review in The Hollywood Reporter, tweeting, "kiss my narcissistic ass."
He's now gearing up for his English-language debut The Death And Life Of John F. Donovan. Jessica Chastain is circling the lead role, as the editor-in-chief of a celebrity gossip magazine. Back at Cannes, she fangirled over Mommy on Twitter, so Dolan invited her to be his beard. Clearly, this might have been what he really meant.
But before Dolan dives into his next creation as a multi-hyphenate actor-writer-director, he stars in the English-language film Elephant Song, which made its world premiere at TIFF.
Dolan plays Michael, a disturbed psychiatric patient who is called in for a one-on-one by hospital director Dr. Toby Green (Bruce Greenwood) after his tending psychiatrist Dr. Lawrence (Colm Feore) mysteriously disappears following their last session. And who better to play the patient than Dolan, with his permanent and self-aware, smirk? Also in the mix is Catherine Keener who plays a tending and sympathetic psychiatric nurse who also happens to be Green's ex-wife.
Green only wants to discover the truth about his colleague, while Michael, at first, only wants to talk about elephants. Set in the 60s, he's convinced Michael is hiding facts about Dr. Lawrence's whereabouts. Quickly, through a series of manipulative mind games and interrogation tactics, Green and Michael rally back and forth for control of the room, and information, as they run out of time. Here, Greenwood makes a perfect foe for the calculating Dolan. His character is concealing his own trauma of his daughter's death, complicated family life, and the hospital's declining reputation.
Adapted from Nicolas Billon's play, the film succeeds with its unpredictable mano-a-mano battle of wits. Much like successful adaptations Carnage, Doubt, and Closer, Elephant Song makes the most of its talented ensemble and limited closed-room sets.
Both Green and Michael are trapped inside the machine and need the other's expertise in order to escape. The constant power plays of Elephant Song leave you at the edge of your seat, in spite of its excessive, and sometimes lazy, reliance on reverse angle reaction shots. Regardless, Dolan's artistic prowess and finesse definitely translates and he remains one to watch.