Although his much-praised first feature, 2009’s I Killed My Mother, didn’t get a release in British cinemas, young Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan’s second feature is a confident and interesting piece of artistic filmmaking.
Dolan directs, writes and acts in Heartbeats, a wonderfully colourful and indulgently bohemian story about two French-Canadian young adults (played by Monia Chokri and Dolan himself) who fall in love with a charismatic young man named Nicolas (Niels Schneider). It isn’t clear if Nicolas is straight or gay (some onscreen evidence suggests both friends may have a chance in securing his sexual affections), but the three repeatedly end up sleeping together. However, the bed-sharing appears to be for the purpose of sleep, not sex, and although sexuality is on the minds of our central trio, there is still something strangely innocent about the way they play-fight and curl up together under the covers.
One of the film’s most striking creative aspects is the use of music set to slow-motion moving images, which more often than not feature characters simply walking down the street or preparing for an outing. Dalida’s superb rendition of the song ‘Bang Bang’ used as a running theme, perfectly illustrates the characters’ burning passions and hidden agendas. There is also an inspired and effectively stirring use of Bach’s ‘Cello Suite No.1 Prelude’, played over the more erotic and intense moments within the film. This piece was also recently used in The Hangover: Part II, although that film made us witness the charmless characters making fun of the beautiful piece of music. This film allows those who appreciate classical music to do so without interruption or sneering inverted snobbery.
There were times in the film when the more artistic attributes threatened to overstay their welcome (slow-mo to an arresting soundtrack is fine, but there is only so much a viewer can take), and this is a fault so many films with artistic aspirations often commit. But thankfully our sympathies stay with the characters, and there is something continually fascinating in the psychology of the central three. Some may feel the film barely scrapes the surface of the drama that could have been had if the characters had revealed their true feelings sooner. But this is a story about the lack of love, not the everlasting power of it, and how though we may occasionally feel we have found ‘the one’, deception and competition from others is never far away. This is perhaps a rather cynical message for a filmmaker as young as Dolan to be expressing, but there is enough witty humour and playful comedy throughout to stop the film becoming an overwhelmingly depressing experience.
There are clear links to be drawn between Dolan’s use of colour and discussion of human sexuality and the films of Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. But Heartbeats takes on a more lyrical and fluid approach to story than Almodovar’s meticulously structured works, and shows encouraging signs of Dolan finding his own cinematic style. His efforts are not always consistent or successful, and there are some rough edges than could have been tidied up, but overall this is an enjoyably fascinating film that will hopefully lead onto even greater things.
Good: Beautifully shot and commendably well-acted, Dolan is an impressive and interesting talent.
Bad: The deliberately arty style may irritate some, though this is not necessarily a fault of the film.