Time for a snap, hip cinema quiz.
Who’s the youngest, sassiest queer filmmaker you’ve probably never heard
of – who while leaving his shirt off in a great many scenes in his first
two movies – asserts that his favorite film of all time is Goddard’s unscripted
masterpiece Pierrot le Fou? Hint: his first name begins with the letter X
and his Cannes debuting first feature – which he says is partially
autobiographical – translates into English as I Killed My Mother.
Montreal born Xavier Dolan – who
broke into Quebec film as a teen actor – also counts among his greatest screen
heroes the fourteen-year-old star of 1959’s The 400 Blows, Jean-Pierre Leaud,
whose rebellious, hooky playing kid begs to be excused from class on account of
the death of his mother, an assertion which co-incidentally was also a fib.
In I Killed My Mother, Dolan’s
sixteen-year-old alter ego Hubert fills a video diary with bare-chested highly
conflicted poetic rants about the most important woman in his life: his petty
bourgeois, nagging, tanning salon addicted mother.
In his new film, Heartbeats (opening
Friday), Dolan’s character, Francis – a bitter gay romantic who chain-smokes,
has a penchant for marshmallows, expensive haircuts – and who keeps a tally of
his failed affairs on his bathroom wall, just to the right of the mirror – is
seriously besotted with a blond Adonis, Nicolas (Niels Schneider) who has also
stolen the heart of his best female pal and co-conspirator Marie (Monia Chokri).
Heartbeats is a captivating
hyper romantic farce, ignited by an obviously doomed ménage a trios – it’s
pretty clear from the get go that Nicolas is merely toying with the affections
of Francis and Marie – simultaneously Dolan is taking the temperature of
today’s (at least chic Montreal’s) twenty-something swinging queer/straight/bi
what have you crowd, in a series of confessional camera rants that bookend the
trios’ failure to achieve either airspeed or
Whether you consider it homage,
cinema sampling, or outright theft, Dolan at least steals from the best: from
Goddard appropriating the hip lingo and pseudo serious insights of Masculine-Feminine’s
boy vs. girl sexual dialectics; from Truffaut a farcically
self-indulgent sense of doom that a mismatched ménage can
prompt; and from Woody Allen the hilarious if banal insight that many adults
seldom achieve any erotic bliss exceeding self-love.
In one of Heartbeats’ most
revealing, silly and least pretentious moments of truth, Francis, sits
in a total daze on top of the bed he’s shared with Nicolas and Marie. Nicolas
and Marie have split to secure a car for a weekend trip into the country and to
restock their cigarette supply -- smoking is a big fucking deal in this
romantic triangle, just the way it always was in those New Wave classics we
guiltily misremember in our New Puritan times – in any event Francis is sitting
half naked in the tangle of dirty sheets and discarded items of clothing
(reeking of Nicolas) waiting for Nick’s ex-dancer mom to show up with this
spoiled boy’s cash allowance.
Despite the inevitability of mom,
Francis buries his head in the hunk’s pullover and starts beating off. Mom
interrupts the reverie with the promised cash and few lewd compliments for Francis
and no sooner does she leave than Francis gets right back down to business. In
a world with few remaining taboos, masturbation, like smoking, is the new love
that dare not. Here, halfway through a story that we know is going to end badly
for Francis and Marie, the sight of our hero shamelessly, desperately
pleasuring himself literally over the scent of a man he can not have any other
way is this filmmaker’s goofy tribute to Allen’s frantically heartfelt if
rationally absurd ending to Manhattan.
Dolan is a young dog still refining
his tricks: the slow motion scene transitions -- characters embarrassingly
exiting the screen with their tails between their legs – a psychologically
astute and eclectic soundtrack whose main motif is Dalidas’
half poignant, half sarcastic wail of Bang Bang and
finally the notion that new a generation of Quebecois youth is giving a Bronx
cheer to the American anti-smoking gospels. Late in the film Marie confesses to
a one night stand that she never feels more spiritually alive than when’s she’s
With his knowing embrace of his
hometown of Montreal as a North American Paris, and with his second terribly
grownup romantic feature promising a great career in the offing, Xavier Dolan
has rapturously bequeathed a long overdue queer accent into that most treasured
of screen genres, the French romantic comedy.