The Sound of Cinema: Heartbeats


To fully grasp the importance of Hearbeats’ soundtrack in the narration of the film, there is a real need to turn ourselves towards its original title. Les Amours Imaginaires, literally Imaginary Loves, tells the story of Francis and Mary, two friends who fell in and out of love with Nicolas. Borderline obsessive, both of them engage with the Apollo on friendship grounds after having met him at a dinner party. The story then evolves around their expectations and fantasies.

Narrowed to only nine songs – just four of which being substantially longer than a minute – the soundtrack is undeniably intrinsic to the matrix of the film. Whenever the music starts, it forces the characters into slow-motion, embodying their fantasies into aesthetically perfect shots that completely match the rhythm of the music. The first song opens on Nicolas’ face, whilst he walks into a café and greets both Francis and Marie.’Times are good. The sky is blue. I’ve got two friends that are also my lovers.’ Isabelle Pierre’s 70’s song briefly resounds, in French. The music stops when the three of them sit down, symbolising the start of their imaginary ménage à trois, and framing it within the soundtrack of the film. 

Therein lies the strength of Heartbeats’s use of music; the story clearly depicts the characters as being obsessed with a certain image of Nicolas (a certain image of love rather than Nicolas or love itself) and this image is embodied throughout by the soundtrack. The nine songs all symbolise a different step into their fantasised relationship – the first and second dates, the party with friends, the (missed) kiss, meeting the mother, going on holidays, fighting and breaking up, randomly seeing the person again, and, finally, falling for someone else. 

The film uses a variety of music genres to illustrate the above, going from 60’s typical French music to House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’. Within the nine songs, two of them clearly stand out from the rest. Dalida’s Spanish version of ‘Bang Bang’ manages to separate itself from its well-known use by Tarantino, and still renders the passion and impact of the lyrics. But the most hypnotic of all songs in the film is probably The Knife’s ‘Pass this On’. Diegetic to the party, its beat completely directs the flashing lights of the sequence, which focuses on Francis and Marie obsessively staring at Nicolas dancing. As the music progresses, the camera frames Nicolas closer and closer. Images of Antiquity statues, mirroring the mental images of Francis and Marie’s representation of the man, slowly joins the beat of the music.

The soundtrack of a film bears the difficult task of being a meaningful complement to the cinematography without getting in the way of its overall movement. With Heartbeats, Canadian prodigy Xavier Dolan manages not only to overcome this challenge but also to create a remarkable soundtrack that holds its own meaning throughout the narration, which drags the audience into the characters’ imaginary loves.


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Ex-Film Editor and future ex-MA student, dissecting films since 2006.

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