After rising to prominence on the international scene with festival stunners like Tom at the Farm and the Cannes award-winner Mommy, celebrated filmmaker (and Adele music video director) Xavier Dolan — often affectionately dubbed French-Canadian cinema’s “enfant terrible” — assembled his most star-studded lineup yet for his upcoming drama The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, a first look at which he shared on social media earlier this week.
Dolan posted a series of haunting stills from the new project to Instagram on Thursday, teasing characters played by Natalie Portman, Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Jacob Tremblay, and Jessica Chastain — all of whom star in the film, which marks Dolan’s English-language debut.
According to Collider, the film took nearly a year and a half to shoot, and few of its A-list actors share scenes together. The official synopsis indicates the movie follows a young actor who, 10 years after the death of an American TV star (the titular character, played by Kit Harington, works on a CW-style teen drama called Hellsome High), reflects on the written correspondence he conducted with the fallen performer. Thandie Newton plays a journalist interviewing the next generation actor about his dealings with Donovan, and Tremblay co-stars as 11-year-old Rupert, a Hellsome High fan who writes letters to the show’s cast.
Despite the film’s broad scope that covers a wide range of characters across multiple time periods (Sarandon and Bates play Donovan’s mother and manager, respectively, while Chastain plays a ruthless gossip columnist and Portman portrays Rupert’s mother), Dolan found a way to zero in on his signature thematic material, i.e. the exploration of maternal bonds.
“When editing, [during a lengthier shooting break] it became clear that the heart of this film would be the mother-son relationships,” Dolan told Collider. “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.”
Scroll through the Instagram slideshows above for a full sneak peek at The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, which is expected to premiere on the fall festival circuit.