When I was at film school, Xavier Dolan was one of those filmmakers whose work was rapturously discussed among excited, eager young moviemaking wannabes. Films like Heartbeats and Laurence Anyways had a youthful ambition to them, a vibrancy that set young hearts alight. I guess it’s fair to say his work was never my scene, so to speak – Heartbeats never really raised my pulse, and his most buzzed about work, the Cannes Jury Prize-winning Mommy, was fairly excruciating in its high-pitched melodrama and distracting, overly-flashy technique. The 2010s were a period of feverish creation for Dolan, in which he turned over new work at a steady, year-by-year clip, though the reception of recent films like The Death and Life of John F Donovan and It’s Only The End of the World suggested that the elements that once made Dolan such a sensation were now waning in their ornate, maximalist power.
The prolific Quebecois filmmaker Xavier Dolan’s first television series is an unsettling and intricate family drama, one that demonstrates a distinct maturation in the filmmaker’s style. It’s some of his most impressive work in years.
Dolan has been off the scene for a minute now, since the pandemic. Perhaps it’s this enforced pause that led Dolan to try his hand at television for the first time. The Night Logan Woke Up is an adaptation of a stage play by Michel Marc Bouchard (whose work Dolan has previously adapted, in the film of Tom at the Farm). A multi-hyphenate, Dolan also acts in the show, as well as writing, producing and editing. The show was reportedly the site of a fair amount of emotional strife for Dolan, who has announced that he plans to retire from filmmaking on account of the amount of effort and financial strain the self-funded Night That Logan Woke Up required, and the feeling of disappointment and thanklessness that came out of it when little money was earned on the other side of making it. It’s a sentiment many filmmakers in the modern climate can surely relate to, in which so much passion and sweat and creative intensity can so often be swept away in the slurry of ‘content’ production.
It’s a shame, too, because The Night That Logan Woke Up is some of his most refreshing and beguiling work in years, a simmering drama that layers in familiar Dolan textures of melodrama and intricate family dynamics in ways that demonstrate a more mature and assured approach from the auteur. It’s those dynamics that have always fascinated Dolan the most, particularly the relationship between mothers and children, as is the case here. In Logan, the death of a matriarch draws her disparate children together per her last wishes, including her estranged daughter Mireille (Julie Le Breton). The series bisected timeline explores the lives of this extremely dysfunctional family in the wake of her death and in years decades prior, alternating between doling out pieces of past trauma that have informed the estrangement, and investigating the consequences of their resurfacing.
The first episode of The Night Logan Woke Up has a deeply intriguing, genuinely proto-Hitchcockian sense of oozing foreboding, aided generously by Hans Zimmer’s winningly steamy, overcranked piano score, recalling high-strung melodramas of years past. Dolan’s sense of pace here is key to what makes Logan so intriguing – the first episode is generally uninterested in the heavily plotted, forward-momentum attitude of most television, instead focussing on evoking his characters’ tortured mindsets with dreamily unsettling editing and camerawork. The cast is uniformly strong in the first two episodes, particularly in an explosive family meeting in the second episode. As the prodigal daughter, Julie Le Breton is the standout, a tenuous, fraught fly in the ointment. Also strong are other members of the family, most especially Eric Bruneau as Denis, the sturdy anchor of the family, and Elijah Patrice-Baudelo, the one-time alcoholic younger brother who practically crackles with repressed pain. As an actor, Dolan acquits himself well, too, adding to the ensemble in fascinating ways. It’s a return to form for Dolan on almost all fronts, one that, tragically, may have come too late. Here’s hoping news of Dolan’s departure from the film world has been exaggerated.
The Night Logan Woke Up – Premieres Tuesdays at 8.30pm from 12 September, exclusive to Rialto Channel.
A Rialto Channel Exclusive - The Night Logan Woke Up
Movie title: The Night Logan Woke Up (Dolan, 2022)
Movie description: The prolific Quebecois filmmaker Xavier Dolan’s first television series is an unsettling and intricate family drama, one that demonstrates a distinct maturation in the filmmaker’s style. It’s some of his most impressive work in years.
Date published: September 11, 2023
Author: Xavier Dolan, Michel Marc Bouchard
Director(s): Xavier Dolan
Actor(s): Julie LeBreton, Patrick Hivon, Éric Bruneau, Xavier Dolan