Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Movie Review: Heartbeats

Heartbeats *** ½
Directed by:
Xavier Dolan.
Written By: Xavier Dolan.
Starring: Monia Chokri (Marie), Niels Schneider (Nicolas), Xavier Dolan (Francis), Anne Dorval (Désirée), Anne-Élisabeth Bossé (Young Girl).

Xavier Dolan made quite a splash with his debut film, I Killed My Mother, which he wrote, directed and starred in at the age of 19. The film was surprisingly raw and honest – and captured life as a confused teenager better than most other films of its sort I have seen – probably because it was actually made a confused teenager. Dolan showed a real flair behind the camera as well, shooting his movie in a style reminiscent of the Dardenne brothers. In short, I Killed My Mother marked him as one of the most exciting filmmakers to come out of Canada in years.

His follow-up film Heartbeats isn’t quite as raw or honest as I Killed My Mother was, yet it confirms Dolan as a wonderful cinematic stylist, as well as a great writer with an ear for dialogue, and a damn fine actor as well. While I Killed My Mother focused on the relationship between a gay teenager struggling to come out to his overbearing mother, Heartbeats is about a bi-sexual love triangle that never really existed.

Dolan stars as Francis, a gay man in his early 20s, who is best friends with Marie (Monia Chokri). They both see the blonde Adonis Nicolas (Niels Schneider) at the same time, and are immediately smitten. It is impossible to get a read on Nicolas, because he is so aloof, and seemingly likes both of them. They jockey for position around Nicolas, trying in vain to garner his affection, because Nicolas seems so oblivious to everything going on around him. It’s not like Francis and Marie don’t have any warning signs – Nicolas doesn’t make a move on either of them, and his own mother (Anne Dorval, playing the exact opposite kind of mother she played in I Killed My Mother – this one trying so desperately hard to remain young and hip, when she so clearly isn’t) describes Nicolas as an airhead. It is fascinating to see how this threesome evolves – from lust and infatuation to downright loathing.

If I Killed My Mother resembled a Dardenne brothers film in the way it was shot, than Heartbeats is very clearly inspired by the work of Jean Luc Godard in the 1960s. The bright color palette, the pretentious young people discussing poetry and modeling their looks on old school movie stars (Audrey Hepburn for Marie, James Dean for Francis) would all fit in an early Godard film. But Dolan’s film is more playful, more fun, more humorous than Godard ever was.

One of the things I admire about Dolan is that unlike many actor/writer/directors, he doesn’t give himself all the best lines and moments. Sure, Francis is clever and funny – well written and well played by Dolan – but it is Monia Chokri who is given the best moments in the film. An actress I wasn’t really familiar with before, she does a great job as the insecure Marie, trying so hard to be cool and get Nicolas to notice her. For his part, Niels Schneider keeps Nicolas at a distance – which is appropriate, because I don’t think either of the main characters ever really get to know him – they don’t even display much interest in doing so. They are too infatuated with him to care. I also quite liked the little “documentary” like clips Dolan throws into the film at various points, interviewing young people about loves lost (including the recent genie nominee Anne-Elisabeth Bosse, who breaks your heart).

I have a feeling that Dolan is only going to get better as his career moves along. Already, at 21, he has two very good movies under his belt, and shows that he has more style than many directors with a lot more experience. At times perhaps he has too much style. And yet, I think Dolan is going to direct even better films than I Killed My Mother and Heartbeats in the future. And I for one, cannot wait to see what they are.

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