Frequently, the most unexpected correspondences can lead us onto new paths. Xavier Dolan, the French-Canadian director of such films as Mommy, Laurence Anyways and Tom at the Farm, is exploring such a correspondence with his first English-language feature, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan. It was also an unexpected chain of messages with Dolan that put Collider on a plane to London to view a few days of intense emotional scenes lensed by Dolan in the English countryside and London alleyways. I got a rare chance as a journalist to sit next to an Award-winning director as he directed Award-winning actors and view, firsthand, his level of precision in framing both the picture and the emotional reactions of Natalie Portman and Jacob Tremblay.
We’ll have much more about the production of the film, including a lengthy conversation with Dolan and members of the cast, in due time. But at this current moment we’re excited to debut the first images of scenes and behind-the-scenes pictures from the film and give some extra context to the characters that the actors are playing.
While the film boasts a starry ensemble, few share scenes together. This made it easier to get talent when they were needed, but it also has made for a lengthy production process in multiple locations, spanning a year and a half shoot. Yet, that process also allowed for Dolan to take breaks and edit the film in between the next shoot. The official synopsis for the film is as follows:
A decade after the death of an American TV star, a young actor reminisces the written correspondence he once shared with the former, as well as the impact those letters had on both their lives.
Although the logline doesn’t mention a mother, don’t worry Dolan-ites, the tumultuous mother-son relationship that Dolan has traversed throughout his career is just as strong as ever. “When editing, [during a lengthier shooting break] it became clear that the heart of this film would be the mother-son relationships,” Dolan said. “And you, know that realization didn’t bother me. I could spend the rest of my life talking about mothers and sons and still be making a completely different movie than the last.”
The story of John F. Donovan spans more than a decade as the timeline begins with the news of the death of the titular character, John F. Donovan (Kit Harrington), which reverberates back to his life and numerous characters he interacted with that positively and negatively affected him. Then the story moves forward ten years past his death, when the younger recipient of a correspondence is himself an actor and is opening up about the previous written relationship he had with Donovan to a journalist, Audrey Newhouse (Thandie Newton).
Dolan, whose previous melodramas recall the best works from Pedro Almodovar and Rainier Werner Fassbinder, has an immense visual palette and is one of the best complex character writers in modern cinema, particularly for women. And his English-language debut features some immense talent. In addition to the aforementioned actors, Donovan‘s supporting cast features Jessica Chastain, Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates and Ben Schnetzer. With this talent and exquisite visuals, Dolan will surely have the attention of distributors once Donovan hits the film festival circuit.
Though Donovan is grounded in relationships, Dolan does view this as his most commercial and accessible work yet. His reasons for which we’ll divulge in our next chapter (or should we call it a “correspondence”?) about the lengthy production. For now, let’s get into some brief character introductions via some beautiful photographs from the film that we’re very pleased to debut on our site.