Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
The story so far
To say Xavier Dolan has achieved a lot for his age is an understatement. While most filmmakers would be pretty chuffed to have a feature film under their belt at 25, the French Canadian wunderkind has written, directed, produced, edited and costume designed five films.
We're not talking little youtube shorts either. Five feature films that have all been major festival hits, three of them have won awards at Cannes. He's also starred in three of those films. While none have had a general release in Australia, they have all played at the Melbourne International Film Festival and the first three have had limited seasons at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.
Xavier Dolan as the title character in Tom at the Farm
Now ACMI is bringing those three films back, as well as running a season of his fourth film Tom at the Farm. Sometimes there's an autobiographical element to Dolan's films, but for his sake I'm pleased to say that isn't the case with his fourth feature. It's a creepy tale of a young man, Tom (played by Dolan) who goes to the rural hometown of his recently deceased boyfriend, Guillaume.
Ostensibly this is to attend Guillaume's funeral, although this is a slightly tricky situation because the boy's mother didn't know her son was gay, much less in a relationship with Tom. His mother believed Guillaume had a girlfriend, and the boy's brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) puts considerable pressure on Tom to maintain this cover and to placate her with tales of the fictitious girlfriend.
Pierre-Yves Cardinal as the brutish Francis in Tom at the Farm
Francis is, to put it mildly, quite intimidating. But while common sense would dictate that Tom get the hell out of there as soon as the funeral's over, Francis seems to exert some kind of hold over him. Maybe it's his resemblance to the man Tom loved, but before you know it, he's drawn into a world which only reinforces the cinema stereotype that country folk have a funny way of doing things.
There are some bizarre things going on in this film, not the least of which is Xavier Dolan's hair, which has got to be the worst piece of follicle work this side of Patrick Swayze in Point Break. It's pretty hard to get a handle on character motivations and the tone is all over the place. Nevertheless, sub par Dolan is still way more interesting than the work of most film directors. This is a dark brew of Canadian Gothic with twisted family secrets, latent desires and some pretty steamy barn dancing.
Dolan as Hubert in I Killed My Mother
If you haven't had the pleasure of experiencing one of Dolan's earlier films, his first three all have a couple of screenings. I Killed My Mother is a semi-autobiographical look at the antagonistic relationship the filmmaker had at the time with his Mum (and no, he didn't kill her). It's black, funny and honest and even if you haven't harboured thoughts of murdering family members, there's plenty to relate to in this tale of adolescent rebellion.
His second film, Heartbeats, is a real gem. Recalling the style and verve of high-end Wong Kar-Wai, Dolan's talent for matching lush visuals with evocative songs is at its peak here. The story centres on two friends, Francis and Marie (played by Dolan and Monia Chokri), who fall in love with the same man, statuesque, blond Nicolas (Niels Schneider). While befriending the easygoing Nicolas is easy, the subtle jealousies between Francis and Marie slowly escalate, threatening to completely destroy their friendship. And which one, if either, does Nicolas want?
Niels Schneider as Nicolas in Heartbeats
The third film, Laurence Anyways, is in many ways a great leap for Dolan. At almost 3 hours, this is a boldly conceived production. It depicts ten years in the life of Laurence, who makes the transition from a man to a woman. In addition to making this courageous move, Laurence strives to hold on to his long term partner, Frederique. It's a striking film, with a moving performance by Melvil Poupaud as the dignified Laurence.
While all of the above films can be viewed as single sessions, you have the option on Saturday October 4, of seeing them all on the one day in a glorious Xavier Dolan marathon. It's a cinephile's dream!
Melvil Paupoud in Laurence Anyways
If you have so far been ignorant to the charms of one of cinema's hottest and brightest young filmmakers, this is your chance to rectify that anomoly. If you're already a fan, this is a good excuse to revisit his films where they belong, on the big screen.
Tom at the Farm commences on September 18 and screens most days until October 5.
Screening times for his other films are:
I Killed My Mother September 29 at 7pm and October 4 at 1pm
Heartbeats September 30 at 7pm and October 4 at 3pm
Laurence Anyways October 1 at 6.45pm and October 4 at 5pm
For more details and to book tickets, visit the ACMI website