Speculation is mounting as to whether cinema’s most precocious hipster auteur, 25-year-old French-Canadian Xavier Dolan, will find himself in the main competition at Cannes for the first time with his upcoming film, entitled “Mommy”.
But before his next work divides audiences and critics, as everything he does (including a music video for French band Indochine) tends to, his previous movie is set to hit French screens on April 16.
Originally screened to considerable acclaim at the Venice Film Festival last year, “Tom à la ferme” (“Tom at the Farm”), a dark, lusciously crafted psychological thriller, marks a confident change of pace for the director.
The Tom of the title is a young gay man from Montreal (played by Dolan in post-punk attire and a curly blonde mullet), who travels to rural Quebec for the funeral of his recently deceased boyfriend, Guillaume. When he gets there, Tom realises through conversations with Guillaume’s mother (the wonderful Lise Roy, a dead ringer for IMF chief and former French finance minister Christine Lagarde) that no one there has ever heard of him – or even knows that Guillaume was gay.
The only person who has a clue is Guillaume’s older brother Francis, a handsome and psychotically hot-tempered brute (the terrifying Pierre-Yves Cardinal) who swiftly draws Tom into a sadomasochistic, homoerotically charged game of cat-and-mouse.
Dolan’s last film, the dazzling cross-dresser epic “Laurence Anyways”, was criticised in certain quarters for violating some rule of stylistic taste. Those people missed the fact that Dolan was using his bold, baroque style – lots of slow-mo and music, generous splashes of colour, off-centre compositions – to express his characters’ innermost emotions.
“Tom at the Farm” is the first Dolan movie that he didn’t write himself – it’s based on a play by Michel Marc Bouchard – and despite the heated nature of the genre he’s working in, the director is more restrained than usual. It’s a testament to what a fine filmmaker Dolan is that his new work never feels stage-bound or derivative, unfolding, rather, with considerable spontaneity and suspense.
With shades of Hitchcock and Polanski (evident in Gabriel Yared’s lush, nerve-wracking score), Dolan turns “Tom at the Farm” into a sort of twisted love story and, as Tom struggles to free himself from Francis’s grip, an unsettling reflection on gay self-loathing and desire. His camerawork is clean and vibrant as ever – tracking shots that stalk the main character from behind, close-ups of faces and eruptions of violence that nearly cross into foreplay – without an ounce of the self-consciousness that marred his debut “I Killed My Mother”.
Dolan also confirms that he is an excellent actor in his own right. With sly humour and a detached, almost stoner-ish gaze, he effortlessly conveys Tom’s confused mix of grief, lust, pride and fury.
On paper, “Tom at the Farm” is nasty stuff, but Dolan injects the story with enough recognisable human feeling that it never plays as overly cruel or arch. He is, quite simply, one of the most vital, fascinating filmmakers working today.
A version of this article appeared in longer form on France24.com during the Venice Film Festival in September.
Date created : 2014-04-14