Directed by: Xavier Dolan.
Written by: Xavier Dolan based on the play by Michel Marc Bouchard.
Starring: Xavier Dolan (Tom), Pierre-Yves Cardinal (Francis), Lise Roy (Agathe), Evelyne Brochu (Sara), Manuel Tadros (Barman).
There are not many 24 year old who can claim they have directed one film that has garnered praise from around the world – and Quebec native Xavier Dolan has already made three. His debut film, I Killed My Mother, made when he was a teenager announced a major new voice in Canadian cinema – and his follow-ups Heartbeats and Laurence Anyways seemed to confirm that talent. He is still a raw talent – none of his films have been perfect. But Dolan has more than enough time to hone his craft. One day, I have little doubt he will make a truly great film.
Unfortunately, his fourth film Tom at the Farm is not that film. Dolan seems to be trying out a different genre each time out, and this time he has elected to make a thriller – something that aspires to be Hitchcockian. If nothing else, Tom at the Farm shows that Dolan could make a great thriller one day. The best aspect of the film is the way Dolan slowly, but surely, builds tension. But as the movie goes along, it becomes increasingly implausible – and the film never quite hits high gear. For the first hour or so of this 95 minute film, I was anxiously awaiting what was going to happen next – only to have the film end without it really doing anything.
Dolan stars in the film as Tom – a gay man from Montreal who travels out into the Quebec farm country to attend his boyfriend’s funeral. We learn next to nothing about his boyfriend – not even how he died (apparently, it was some sort of accident). Tom arrives at his boyfriend’s childhood home, and is immediately welcomed in by Agathe (Lise Roy), his boyfriend’s mother, who doesn’t know her son was gay – an illusion Tom does not break. Next, he meets Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), his boyfriend’s older brother he didn’t even know existed. Francis runs the family farm, and makes it clear to Tom that Agathe is never to know her son was gay. Francis has even gone so far as to invent a girlfriend for his late brother – a girlfriend Agathe is furious with for not attending the funeral. From his introduction – waking Tom up in the middle of the night with a chokehold – it’s clear that Francis is more than slightly unhinged. Tom wants out of there as soon as possible – but for some reason, he finds himself drawn back to the farm after the funeral. And soon, he cannot leave at all – pretty much being held hostage by Francis, who is alternately violent and abusive, and kind in a way that hints that perhaps he’s not as much unlike his brother than he wants to believe.
For the first hour, much of the film works. We sense that Dolan and his characters are withholding information from us that will set in motion the films climax, but this works because Dolan is gradually building the tension, and revealing more and more about Francis and Agathe – who at first seem to be one dimensional characters that gradually become more complex as the movie progresses. The film also benefits from a wonderful score by Gabriel Yared – inspired by Hitchcock favorite Bernard Hermann. In short, for an hour, I couldn’t wait to see where the film was leading me.
Which is what makes the final half hour of the film such a disappointment – a jumble of ideas that goes by too quickly to be believed. Tom essentially reveals a certain degree of Stockholm syndrome in one scene, and then just as quickly seems to snap out of it. The film also introduces another character – Sarah (Evelyne Brochu), who’s pretty much every action makes no logical sense at all. There is one neat scene in this section – involving a local bartender who reveals the secrets Francis refuses to – but then the movie devolves into a strange, slow motion chase scene climax that simply has no tension. Perhaps this is because Tom at the Farm is based on a play – but if the play ended the same way as the movie does, than Dolan should have realized what worked on a stage, wouldn’t work nearly as well on screen.
Tom at the Farm is not a bad film by any means – the first hour is in fact quite good. But because the first hour works so well, the last half hour seems even worse than it would have had the first part not been as strong. Dolan is still a talented filmmaker – certainly someone to watch, and one of the most interesting directors currently working in Canada. But Tom at the Farm is a disappointment.
Note: The film opens in Montreal tomorrow, and one supposes will open around Canada shortly – as far as I know however, it still doesn’t have a deal for America – yet his debut film, made 4 years ago, just got a release South of Border last year, so you never know. I saw this film at TIFF 2013, and my review is based on that screening.