Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan made his English-language debut on Monday, premiering “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan” at the Toronto film festival.
The much-anticipated film starring Susan Sarandon, Natalie Portman, and Kit Harington (“Game of Thrones”) had been suddenly withdrawn from Cannes earlier this year and concerns were raised about the production after he later cut Jessica Chastain’s scenes.
Reviews were mixed.
On the red carpet in Toronto, Dolan did not speak to the media, leaving his cast to field questions in his stead.
“He wasn’t aiming to like have this big breakout, first English movie, it’s just (that) the movie he was making had to be in English,” said Harington.
“It’s about the entertainment industry, it’s about Hollywood. And he wanted to work with some actors that didn’t speak French as well. So you know that leaves him with doing an English language movie.”
The story unfolds with television heartthrob Donovan dying alone and unexpectedly after a series of scandals.
Years later, fan Rupert Turner, who as a child had corresponded with Donovan, writes a memoir about his five-year secret correspondence with him.
Turner details the actor’s troubled life, the compromises he made for fame, but also his tenderness and generosity toward the boy.
The film also stars Kathy Bates, Thandie Newton (“Westworld”), Jacob Tremblay (“Room”) and Ben Schnetzer, also at TIFF this year in “The Grizzlies.”
The film’s world premiere marks Dolan’s first presentation at the Toronto film festival, where he also appears in a supporting role in the film “Boy Erased,” about a teen forced to undergo so-called gay conversion therapy.
The 29-year-old filmmaking prodigy has a long history with Cannes, which screened most of his films and awarded him prizes for “Mommy” and “It’s Only The End of the World.”
But earlier this year he yanked “Donovan” from the festival on the French Riviera, citing the need to continue editing it after two years toiling on his first foray into Hollywood directing. Notably the first cut was nearly four hours long.
Then, he triggered surprised by cutting Chastain’s villain character from the movie, saying in February that it “did not feel like it belonged to the rest of the story.”
A backlash ensued, but the director stressed that the decision was not reflective of Chastain’s performance.
Chastain also came to his defense, saying: “Critics should inspire artists to evolve and grow. Bullying hobbles creativity.”
After Toronto, Dolan will return to his francophone roots for his next film, “Matthias and Maxime.”