Heartbeats (IFC Films, NR)

This film is way better than it has any right to be; film students of the world, prepare to be really jealous.



Last November the St. Louis International Film Festival showed a French-Canadian film called I Killed My Mother. While I ultimately didn’t like it (mostly because the two main characters were endlessly grating), I was very impressed that it was written, directed, produced, and costumed by Xavier Dolan, who also starred in the film. Dolan, aside from being a rather talented hyphenate (I Killed My Mother is a very well written, directed, acted, produced, and costumed film), was born in 1989, and I Killed My Mother was made in 2009. In 2010 the newly-drinking-aged (in America, at least) Dolan made his second feature film, Heartbeats, which is just now getting its official U.S. release. This film is way better than it has any right to be; film students of the world, prepare to be really jealous.

Yes, Dolan again wrote, directed, produced, and starred in this film (no costumes this time), and where I Killed My Mother was well-made but trying, Heartbeats is well-made and fun, insightful, or any other number of adjectives. It focuses on a love triangle between gay Francis (Dolan), his best, straight female friend Marie (Dolan’s real-life friend Monia Chokri), and a cute boy of indeterminate sexual orientation they both meet at the same time at a dinner party, Nico (Niels Schneider, an alumnus of I Killed My Mother). This love triangle, while amusing, breaks no new ground really, and the ending is a little trite, but the fun to be had in this movie comes from how joyfully it’s put together—and there is a lot of fun to be had.

Aside from creating more likeable characters—not a necessity, but comes in handy for accessibility purposes—Dolan here is more playful with narrative structure, use of color, cinematography, and music than he was in Mother, or than most other filmmakers are who are working today. Dolan does a Wong Kar-wai thing with a French-language version of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” which you might recognize (in its English version) from Quentin Tarantino’s use of it in Kill Bill. I don’t want to say that it works better here, but it certainly is comparably good. In addition to the Wong-ish recuing of one song multiple times in a movie, Dolan wears most of his other influences on his sleeve, and there are many. The most obvious influence is perhaps Gregg Araki, glaringly in the form of marshmallows showering Nico in slow motion in a way that blatantly recalls breakfast cereal showering a character in Mysterious Skin. (Also, Araki’s newest film Kaboom and Heartbeats feature very similar conversations about using the Kinsey scale in an effort to ascertain someone’s sexual preference, but this couldn’t have been intentional, as they were made and released at basically the same time—great minds think alike.) There are also echoes of Richard Linklater and a lot of French New Wavers here too; nice to know that Xavier’s learning to make films from the best.

I’m happy to report that Dolan is already in production on his third film, Laurence Anyways. He’s working at the rate of a film a year, and he started when he was 20 years old. If he can uphold the quality of his first two features, especially Heartbeats, he will most certainly be a director to watch. At the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, where Heartbeats held its premiere, it won the “Youth Prize,” which to me underestimates the film—Xavier Dolan’s level of artistry would never betray his age. | Pete Timmermann


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