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Silence

02/20/2015 05:34 EST | Updated 04/22/2015 05:59 EDT
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How can I keep silent, in spite of level-headed advice to do just that, in the wake of last week's media circus around an unimportant statement I made about the absence of my film from the Oscars.

It would be naive to believe that one's words are worth anything when commenting on a phenomenon so common it has become a custom, a reflex. A mode. A mode of speaking, of quoting, of selling, industrializing; information is not an right, but something to be acquired, as part of a transaction. This mode has become so ingrained in our behaviour patterns that it seems almost idiotic to resist, to attack the underlying structure.

But I would rather be the idiot who responds than be weak and not speak out.

Silence, Francis Bacon once said, is the virtue of fools. I'm not foolish enough to criticize an entire profession. I'm criticizing not a profession but a style, and I'm speaking out, so to speak, not only on my own behalf, but as a member of a larger community of people whose celebrity status exposes them to the trap of catchphrases and misinformation. That same trap is what makes this text seem too long, less attractive than a fast draft, belched out in a single sitting. Even this text becomes the public property of a certain set of journalists who can do with it what they will, according to their own rules and terms. In any case, this issue seems to have reached the height of intellectual laziness, but let's see if anyone takes it a little further, just so they can get in the last word.

It seems to me that the fact that such a banal statement, from days ago, could have been repeated as widely, from blog to blog, from site to site, so automatically and with such relish, masks a love of stupidity, of sensationalism, which any reasonable person would consider vulgar. The love of sensational headlines is far from new -- there were other scandals in the past -- but it seems that these days, these years, a certain tier of journalists who one might expect to have a more noble mandate, or who work for more serious publications, have an almost exclusive appetite for non-news.

We entrust these columnists with what is popular while we wait for them to be ready to navigate the deeper waters of real news. Like those bloggers who have the audacious task of thinking once a week, gold prospectors who are promised glorious promotions if they can dig up even one precious stone that can be disguised as a nugget, like coals that appear to have gone out, but become warm again when you blow on them. They are like parched travellers in the desert of what to say, inventing fantastic oases which they drink from greedily. They are observed from across the water by an agitated horde, whose fat, stiff fingers haven't touched a keyboard in a hot minute. Then, ding! Salvation. The goods have been delivered, and we can finally deliver it ourselves; all that's left is to hit send. No point in reading the article, the whole thing is contained in the 23-word title.

There seems to be a certain maneuver that's foolproof when it comes to non-news. I think it goes something like this: if an artist says that "not having the chance to participate is ostracizing," you can't get any mileage on that; better to say he feels ostracized, which makes him into more of a victim. If he says he "took the news, somewhat pretentiously, as a statement," that's not interesting either; that would mean admitting his awareness of his own lack of modesty. Leave that part out. Finally, saying the situation was "a little humiliating" won't do. Business is business, so it has to be just "humiliated," otherwise it runs over the character limit on Twitter, and if you leave in too much nuance and you have to drop the Ugg ad (a product whose very existence brings down the collective IQ level) -- I'm eager to read headlines saying I'm attacking this master boot company.

And since I dared to try and clarify things on social media, and claimed that this type of journalism is weak, one of "them" quickly responded: "while one may understand why he [me] is frustrated at seeing his words so grossly misrepresented, one wonders if this type of transcendental genius thought journalism was so "weak" when it was dedicating covers and countless pages to his film Mommy on its release"... As if it were the same people were crafting criticism of a film and the underlying critique of an individual. The parallel is unbelievably dense, but maybe there's enough fuel to take for a ride primal readers who love to hate.

In my view, these types of journalists have no honour; they don't have enough intelligence to critique a work, nor do they deserve to deliver news. This wasn't news, it was a fact. They dress it up with makeup, force-feed it to make it fatter, and when it's ready, deliver it to the crowd, who we believe to be incapable of devoting even a second to a fraction of a news story.

Just like that movie with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine, where the rumor that comes out of the ugly little girl's mouth is unstoppable, and all of a sudden hundreds of people are writing to tell us to stop "complaining" and "shut our ugly mouth." This last phrase will undoubtedly make those who sponsor hate crack a smile; while they wait to make a living from their work, they live for making digs at us, only too glad to contribute to a distorted image of us.

And this image holds on for dear life; whatever you do, it hangs on. Whenever you try and be careful about the words you use -- if they're too beautiful, they're pedantic; if they're honest, they'll quickly become cruel -- when you make generous films from the heart -- if you had to make them from your head, they'd be pretentious -- there's always a sly fox to say you're "bragging," and you're "attacking" something or other, or someone or other.

A director who says truthfully that he's disappointed must of course be considered an enfant terrible who is complaining and lashing out, because in the end, if he's not an enfant terrible, what is he, human? I'm no stranger to this; it seems I have the gift of making inoffensive statements that everyone rushes to exacerbate in order to make interesting.

The beginning of my personal experience with this tendency goes back about four years. Early on the morning of the Cannes Festival press conference, six Québécois journalists were gathered in Laurence Anyways' distributor's office to get a few quotes about the film being selected for Un Certain Regard. After months of reading analysis from knowledgeable publications which practically guaranteed I would be in the official selection, it is entirely possible that, at the tender age of 21, I let myself get carried away. So that morning, I said to these six journalists that while I was disappointed not to be in Competition, I was glad to be in Certain Regard, and the conversation continued on as if nothing had happened. The next day, the sixth journalist wrote, all in caps: XAVIER DOLAN IS GOING TO CANNES, AND HE IS NOT HAPPY. I can still see it in black and white, but in my heart, it's written in red.

Though I had just arrived at Cannes, that was all it took for people to begin asking me about my anger, my rage, even, my shame, my screaming disappointment, shouted shamelessly from the rooftops... I spent the entire miserable week trying to diffuse this imaginary scandal born of a simple remark. People are still talking, writing about it. No one will ever forget it. And yet, who really knows what was said in that office one April morning? No one.

It was the exact same thing, to the letter, that happened last week, when that fragmented report came out, and the two local journalists claimed "I wasn't happy...": a total fabrication. It was never said, nor was it felt, whether in tone or in attitude; nothing to write home about, one might say, four little innocent words, a typical phrase that seems without malice, but which apparently contains the fertile qualities of exponentially spreading gossip.

Same old story. Same reaction, same irritation, same lack of understanding. How can these journalists -- those who passed along and repeated ad nauseum this pseudo brief -- lack the ability to ask themselves questions, to dig deep, to appraise the relevance of a story that isn't one? What career are they aspiring to? Have they never faced disappointing situations? Have they never experienced failure, or has their life been one long line of uniform and brilliant successes? Have they never spent sleepless night after sleepless night waiting for a phone call that would never come and had a legitimate feeling of disappointment and loss? Do they understand the constant difficulty of speaking, and the fear of being misquoted?

And why does ambition bother us so much? Why do we always have to confuse it with pretention? I also wonder about the consequences of having written this text. But candidness and truthfulness are more important to me than the affinity of a certain group of gossip columnists whose love is always expressed through knife thrusts in the back. I do this job to be loved through my films, but it isn't like I expected to be loved for who I was, that would have been too easy. In the face of this type of misinformation, remaining silent would be an insult to the profession of journalism, for which I have great admiration, matched only by the outrage I feel when it is sullied with petty sensationalism and moronic demagoguery. I would be willing to bet that these last two sentences are the most likely to be reprinted, the most baneful and least faithful to the spirit of the text.

But the most extraordinary response to this letter, whose content is publicly available in its entirety, unaltered and unedited, would be total silence, oddly enough.

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