adele and xavier dolan are a match made in heartbreak heaven

We dissect the singer's new video.

by Colin Crummy
23 October 2015, 1:56pm

Adele's decision to work with Xavier Dolan on her new video for Hello is a smart one. At 26, Dolan may be the most exciting young talent in arthouse cinema, but his work vibrates with ideas as universal as hers.

In Hello, the new video for the first piece of music in four years from Adele, the singer treads over old emotional ground. She goes back to a dusty house where memories of an old flame play out and various telephone calls go unanswered. Or worse -- the call is taken and ends in a bit of a blub. It is classic heartbreak pop territory, just as the song itself Hello is a very simple, stripped back evocation of the same. But Dolan gives Adele a gravitas -- mirrored in the song's regal sadness.

There are big, Dolan moments in Hello. Fall leaves whirl, emotions flare, hair is windswept. But it is the intimacy that makes it work: in Adele's eyes (that single tear) or the old Motorola phone that won't pick up a signal. Note too how that superior quality runs right through to a lack of product placement.

It is a very canny choice to work with Dolan. He's said of the collaboration: "It was a privilege to direct the music video for Adele's beautiful, heartbreaking song. When I first heard it, all the images were already running by so clearly in my head -- and her trust and generosity allowed me to create freely." In other words, he gets it. He gets why Adele has near universal resonance. His work has nearly always been transgressive and left field, but it is always rooted in his characters' lived experience. The music choices (always his) reflect this. His most recent, Cannes Jury prize winning work featured a mix CD of Dido, Oasis and Celine Dion.

In Mommy, troubled teenage Steve skateboards through suburban streets with Oasis's Wonderwall on his oversized, white headphones. Like he's just stepped out of his own life and into a music video, the moment offers liberation. The film is shot in a 1:1 aspect ratio, giving it a box like shape on screen, as if we're peering into a private scene. Steve -- by the magic of being in his own music video -- breaks through the fourth wall, literally drawing back the frame and turning the film into pure cinema.

Dolan is a young master at putting the intensely personal in widescreen terms. In his previous work Laurence Anyways sees a college teacher transitioning -- the drama of which is compounded by her girlfriend's decision to see out the relationship. Here again, Dolan's characters find expression or escape in a perfect marriage of sound and vision. They frequently step into scenes as if into their very own music video. The girlfriend, Fred, enters a ballroom fantasy, buoyed by Visage's Fade to Grey. She and Laurence step outside into a new, blue sky world to the sound of Moderat's A New Error, as it rains fantastical wardrobe of clothing.

These moments use music to express what the characters cannot, as we use music in our lives to express our experience. Another scene from Mommy is Dolan at his most intimate. In a suburban kitchen Steve sticks on Celine Dion's On Ne Change Pas and coaxes his mom and next door neighbor Kyla into a dance. It's a moment of pure alchemy, when words and music connect. Steve is the star in black vest and eyeliner, giving it everything to Celine but it's really the two women who find themselves in the music. Kyla is hesitant and shy but loses herself momentarily.

It's something that Dolan does in the work himself. On directing Hello he said: 'Adele allowed me to dive into this full throttle, so I could abandon myself artistically and emotionally, like she always does.' The result is a superior visual for a supreme pop artist.


Text Colin Crummy

Xavier Dolan