Xavier Dolan was only 19 when he made his first film, the startlingly original, semi-autobiographical I Killed My Mother, about a gay teen's love-hate relationship with his mom during his coming-out process. It's had countless showings in festivals and museums but has yet to have a proper U.S. theatrical release.
Dolan turned 22 on March 20 as his second film, Heartbeats, started playing around the country, indicating that distributors are putting the cart behind the horseshit. Cinephiles can make a drinking game of spotting Dolan's influences in Heartbeats, but if you're looking for entertainment look elsewhere.
The bones of the plot aren't so bad. Francis (Dolan) and his best friend Marie (Monia Chokri) meet "blond Adonis" Nicolas (Niels Schneider), who has just moved to Montreal. This hottie impresses them with his beauty and his brains. (However, once he shows he can use "Manichean" in a sentence he pretty much keeps the latter under wraps. His own mother calls him an "airhead."). They start buying him gifts and scheming individually to get into Nick's knickers, while the three of them socialize as a trio and even sleepbut only sleeptogether.
Nicholas is free with his time and affection but leaves anything more to Francis and Marie's fantasies. Each has moments with him they can interpret as encouraging, as when he chooses to sleep in the middle, but they grow increasingly frustrated waiting for more; hence the French title, Les Amours Imaginaires (Imaginary Loves), is more descriptive.
Francis and Marie are both having sex with other men (and Francis with himself, alone in Nick's bed) while they're waiting but their competition over Nicholas strains their friendship.
The concept is too slight and silly to stretch over a featureit might have worked as an episode of Will & Grace, with Jack and Karen adding some laughs. For padding Dolan inserts three segments of unidentified people talking to the camera about their own romantic misadventures as if they were in reality show confessionals. Aside from showing that things are tough all over this adds nothing to the story, only takes us out of it for a few minutes at a time.
The story is obviously of less importance to Dolan than experimenting with technique. In addition to writing, directing and starring in Heartbeats he's one of three producers and handled costumes, art direction and editing on his own. He might do better with a little less on his plate. It's ironic that his first film was more mature than his second, but perhaps he went to film school in the interim and picked up some bad habits as well as good influences.
The plot of Heartbeats is a twist on Truffaut's Jules and Jim, in which two male friends competed for the love of an enigmatic woman. Nicholas is the personification of the BuĂ±uel title That Obscure Object of Desire. The interplay and sex play among young adults recall early Gregg Araki films, before he became more complex and ambitious. Wong Kar-wai inspired the lighting of scenes of Francis and Marie with various sex partners, each one shot with a different monochromatic filter: red, green, yellow, blue. AlmodĂ"var's use of pop songs is mimicked by Dolan, especially when he plays Dalida's version of "Bang Bang"in Spanishthree times.
When the camera zooms in and out repeatedly and too many scenes are shot in slow-motion, it's not clear whether Dolan is imitating someone specific or just being irritating.
Also annoying is the amount of cigarette smoking in this movie. After all, the characters aren't Frenchthey're French-Canadian!
I wouldn't count Xavier Dolan out because of this sophomoric sophomore slump. I Killed My Mother was one of the best queer films of the last decade and I fully expect the man who made it to give us at least one of the best of this decade, but Heartbeats isn't it.