Xavier Dolan is intense. As we talk about Laurence Anyways, his spectacular meditation on the experience of a teacher transitioning from male to female, he chews on his nails, speaks a mile a minute and has no problem expressing his opinions.
To be fair, I'm kind of setting him up, suggesting that people who call his films indulgent actually have no tolerance for real cinematic style. He loves that.
"People have no interest in taste," he says, dressed fashionably in a sharp grey suit during TIFF. "They don't want to stand for taste. They're used to neutral points of view. There are places in the film where people dream, but cinema is made for dreams."
He defines indulgence as a trick a director performs for his own satisfaction and not to serve the content of the film.
"If something is falling from the sky or running down the wall in this movie, it's not because I want to treat myself and have a little style. It's because it's emotionally coherent with what the characters are going through.
"Besides," he adds, "70 per cent of the movie is shot shoulder-held with natural light. People are talking about just four scenes. They never talk about the silences, or the beats when people are suffering."
There is a lot of misery in the film, to be sure, but there are transcendent moments when people, especially kids, show an amazing openness.
"Young people have virginal brains that are waiting for information. Whatever you say to them will leave either a beautiful trace or a horrible scar. It's the age when they're like sponges and can not only learn two languages, but also learn to get rid of the normal and abnormal labels and merge them into one society where everyone is not different but unique."
He gets a superb performance from Suzanne Clément as Fred, Laurence's lover, who stays with him during his transition. She took the best actress prize in the Un Certain Regard competition at Cannes this year. (The film itself won the Queer Palm).
"Making a movie with Suzanne is like painting together. Someone does something here (he mimes a painting stroke), someone does something there, and then it comes together. She helped create a character who speaks for herself. She's not an actor; she's an artist."
Just three weeks before shooting, Louis Garrel, the actor cast as Laurence, dropped out of the project. When I mention it, Dolan pauses for what feels like the first time since we began talking.
"We didn't get along," he says, quietly.
He had to start shooting in only three weeks or, he says, all the companies involved would have gone bankrupt. But it all worked out when he called Melvil Poupaud.
"He tried on the costumes and we could see Laurence, the way the clothes fit, the way he held his hands. He abandoned himself so quickly and generously and fearlessly. What he did in two days is what my character does in the movie. If he can do it in real life, I thought, he can do it on camera."
Poupaud did change the film, however.
"Laurence is the quiet force and Fred is the fire, where before I imagined two abnormal people living normally. Now there's more of a sense of balance. I wanted to have a superhero. Now I have a hero, which is perfect for the film.
"I have no regrets."