Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2011 9:06 am 
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Lovesick, in style

In his debut feature as a director, the copious hair of Xavier Dolan, the gay French Canadian filmmaking wunderkind (now 22) was flopped down in front. Now it's pushed up as he stars, writes, directs, and produces his sophomore effort. What else is new? Well, thankfully he seems to have gotten over the maternal hangups of I Killed My Mother. And he has moved on to: a futile crush, shared by his character, Francis with a female best mate called Marie (Monia Chokri ). And the crush is on a young (copiously curly) blond Adonis, with prominent nose, bee-sting lips, and a Grecian profile, Nicolas (Niels Schneider). Schneider was actually a character in the whiny, grating Mother, but was called Éric. He bears a certain resemblance to the (dark-haired) French heartthrob Louis Garrel, and to underline that point Garrel himself appears in a tiny cameo at the end, and winks.

While I Killed My Mother was repetitious and strident, Heartbeats is melancholy and pretty, and a bit repetitious too, but not generally hard to watch. Except for some jerky zoom "documentary" shots of "interviews" with miscellaneous young lovelorns, in fact kHeartbeats is gorgeous eye candy throughout, and reads a lot like a long music video, with constant use of slo-mo and repeated loud, pretty music (particularly a lush Italian version of "Bang-Bang" and the opening of Bach's solo cello suites) and otherwise marked by a self-conscious stylishness that owes something to the French New Wave and a lot to Wong Kar-wai. Writing about the film last May when it was shown last May at Cannes, Variety critic Rob Nelson pointed out that a red-tinted scene of Marie with "an unfulfilling male partner" imitates Godard's Contempt and the slo-mo shots following Marie in a tight dress with "Bang-Bang" playing loud exemplify the way Dolan's "thick Wong-ian influence" falls "between plagiarism and homage." He might have been thinking of Christophe Honoré's Love Songs too.Maybe the young filmmaker is working through influences, even more this time than last, but he handles them with panache, and this film has a wider appeal than his first.

Apart from the stylishness, how much you like this movie is a function of your patience with or sympathy for fashion-obsessed young people who have nothing to do but moon over a cute boy. That could be a problem, though Dolan avoids sophomore-effort letdown because he really does have strong cinematic gifts, and he has not forsaken or forgotten them.

Once Nicolas has turned up at a party and been observed by Marie and Francis, they run around town pretending not to be in mad pursuit of him. He is a primo people-pleaser, and maybe a bit bi-; he tells them both repeatedly that he "loves" them. But when they finally give away their obsession with him following a disastrous threesome trip to the country, he firmly (separately) rebuffs them both. He tells Marie he has other things to do, and asks Francis "What made you think I was gay?" Scenes with the three together are alive, but as void of solid content as the rest.

Style over content? Yes, and this shows that Dolan may not be very good at plotting. We'll have to see what narratives he finds worthy for future efforts. Rob Nelson concludes: "In his second film, Dolan continues to flaunt a fabulously tactile sense of color, shape and texture; one feels the director is trying to make every shot as vivid and engrossing as possible. Indeed, in purely technical terms, Heartbeats -- edited, art-directed, and costume-designed by Dolan himself -- is no small triumph, particularly given the production's tiny scale." I can only agree.

Les amours imaginaires (the film's more descriptive original French title) won the Regards Jeunes prize at Cannes. In the USA it is being distributed in theaters and on demand by IFC from Feb. 23, 2011.


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