Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan may be sick of being constantly described as a wunderkind, but when you are just 24 years old like he is and have already made four head-turning mind-blowing Award winning movies, then the description is more than apt. Not content with writing and directing each of them he usually loves to edit, design the costumes, create the music, and now in his latest one, a taut psychological thriller, he stars in it to.
Tom is grieving the death of his boyfriend Guy (known to his family as Guillaume) and he travels to a rather bleak part of Northern Quebec to attend the funeral and share his loss with the family he has never even met. He quickly discovers from a very scary encounter with Francis, Guilliame’s older brother, that not only was he ‘not out’ to his mother, but that Francis had actually created an imaginary girlfriend so that she would never suspect. In the first of many threats, Francis menacingly insists that Tom stays and keeps quiet about being gay and also adds some credence to the existence of Guillaume’s ‘girlfriend’ before he then goes from the family farm for good, never to return.
To avoid doing just this, immediately after the funeral Tom tries to leave to go back to the city but in his panic he forgets his luggage and turns the car around to head back to the Farm to retrieve it. In doing so he confronts Francis and so refuses to go along with the subterfuge which results in first of the beatings he will get at the hands of this psychotic bully. It also soon becomes obvious that despite all the violence both men are attracted to each other……Tom to Francis despite all the vicious physical abuse …. and Francis to Tom even though he is bitterly angry about his own repressed homosexuality.
Tom settles into some sort of routine and looks almost set to stay at the Farm and when he actually arranges for the fake girlfriend to come visit to appease the mother, he refuses to leave even when it is obvious to her and Tom that he is in real danger if he stays there a moment longer with the mad sociopath brother. He claims that it’s because that Francis could not manage the Farm on the own, but it’s clear that he actually is drawn to Francis’s deranged behaviour.
It is a superb fist-clenching piece with an atmosphere of real fear that never ever lets up. I am not sure what was worse, knowing what Francis was actually capable off (and there is much more that I haven’t even touched on) or the realisation of what a pliable and willing Tom would accept. In amongst all of this, there is one most glorious scene where the two men tango together in the barn where the intimacy will only give way to violence again. The high pitch tension never ever gives a clue as to how it will develop or end up.
Mr Dolan sporting tousled dirty blond hair turns in a convincingly effective performance as Tom, and it is matched by veteran Canadian actress Lise Roy playing the mother with such a defiant tone, and also Pierre Yves-Cardinal as a very intimidating latently gay Francis.
I am unashamedly a big fan of Mr Dolan’s work and have never subscribed to the notion sometimes proffered that he is always about style over substance ….. the reason I am passionate about the work is the fact that he combines both so very well. However with this movie you can sense a more mature quality, and I believe that Mr Dolan really can quite rightly claim the crown of being an out queer Hitchcock. P.S. The only fact I have given this a less than perfect score is there were two strands of the plot that puzzled me. I couldn’t believe that the mother could have been so completely unaware of what was going on in either of her son’s life. And secondly would an urbane Copy Editor at an city Ad Agency really take to farming so eagerly as Tom did? For once this Dolan movie didn’t premiere at the Cannes Film Festival where he has a habit of picking up numerous Awards, instead it was shown at the Venice Film Festival last month where it won the prestigious Critics Award.