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Xavier Dolan admits he has a fixation with a certain character type in his films

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TORONTO - Quebec filmmaking whiz Xavier Dolan says his first three films — "I Killed My Mother," "Heartbeats" and "Laurence Anyways" — are about the subject of impossible love.

But he also admits those movies, as well as subsequent efforts "Tom at the Farm" and recent Cannes Film Festival hit "Mommy," share another link — a certain type of character he has a fixation with.

"I'm obsessed, I think, with the mother figure, obviously," the 25-year-old director-actor-writer said in an interview. "It's always there in my movies."

And so it was that, when Dolan saw Quebecois author Michel Marc Bouchard's French-language play "Tom a la ferme," he was struck by the widowed mother grieving the loss of one of two sons on her rural property. When her late son's secret lover arrives for the funeral, a dark dynamic develops.

The mother figure was "literally the first thing that hit close to home when I watched the play and decided to adapt it into a movie," said Dolan.

"I was like, 'Whoa, the mom — sick character.' ... When I saw her and her being exhausted and living on that farm and being so ... desperate for company, I was like, 'That's inspiring.'"

In Dolan's "Tom at the Farm" — opening Friday in Toronto and Vancouver, and in Victoria on June 20 — the mother, Agathe, is played with perfect nuance by Lise Roy, who also starred in the play. Pierre-Yves Cardinal brings a chilling intensity to Francis, her son whose dark side emerges when the late brother's partner, Tom (Dolan), visits their Quebec farm from the city and finds it hard to leave.

Bouchard co-wrote the film with Dolan, who had never before based a film on someone else's work. Dolan said he didn't want to be judgmental when it came to the characters living in the countryside.

"I've been brought up in the country half of my childhood and then the other half in town and I don't want this to come off as prejudiced," the Montreal native said in a downtown hotel room at the Toronto International Film Festival.

"These people are crazy, wherever they live. That is a case of sheer insanity that Tom is encountering and it's not about hicks that will (mess) you up," he added, using an expletive. "It's not the way I thought. It's not a 'Deliverance' thing.

"Tom was the opportunity to try to bridge that ever-growing gap not only between city and country, but between human beings who are just evolving in different environments but who both feel the loneliness and who are both wounded."

Dolan strikes the psychological thriller note with a brooding score from Oscar-winning composer Gabriel Yared and a suspenseful cinematic style and tone reminiscent of an Alfred Hitchcock film.

Surprisingly, Dolan said he hadn't seen any Hitchcock films prior to making "Tom at the Farm."

"I had not seen one, and then I edited it and people were just pacing in the editing room, looking at it saying, 'Yeah, there's a Hitchcock vibe.' I was like, 'Uh huh,' and they were like, 'You know who that guy is? He's the filmmaker,' and I was like, 'Yeah, I know who he is.'"

That's when Dolan decided to do his homework, taking in a whopping 20 Hitchcock films with his roommate over the Christmas holidays.

"I was like, 'OK, Hitchcock, it's now or never. I cannot live without having seen no Hitchcock movie,'" he said. "So, 20 Hitchcock films. I've got serious lacks in my culture and I'm young and I've still got some stuff to see, obviously. Now I've seen Hitchcock films."

"Tom at the Farm" won the International Federation of Film Critics' best film prize at the Venice Film Festival, made TIFF's annual list of best Canuck features, and received eight Canadian Screen Award nominations.

Such accolades are becoming par for the course for Dolan, who got his start at a child actor and won three awards at the Cannes film fest with his 2009 feature directorial debut, "I Killed My Mother."

Cannes has continued to be kind to him, handing him the Regards Jeunes Prize for his 2010 romantic comedy, "Heartbeats," followed by two awards in 2012 for "Laurence Anyways" and the Jury Prize last weekend for "Mommy."

His filmmaking passion is fuelled by his love of directing actors, he said.

"The rest of filmmaking is, like, I'm never sure about what I'm doing, honestly. The only thing I love to do is to direct actors and I honestly do feel like it's something I can do. It's the only certainty I have, and certainty is a big word.

"But being an actor myself, the only thing I'm interested in is for the acting to be good and to learn about acting and span all sorts of acting during my career."

— Follow @VictoriaAhearn on Twitter.

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