The Renaissance Of Queer Cinema

For decades now, “new queer cinema” (a term first coined in a Sight & Sound article written by B. Ruby Rich, but one with roots that can be traced back even further) has been in existence – a movement whereby the focus of a film, and subsequently the themes in which it explores, challenged both the status quo of heterosexual dominance and shifted focus onto LGBT characters, their relationships and their struggles not only to conform to society, but also to Continue reading “The Renaissance Of Queer Cinema”

Review: Heartbeats (2010)

Synopsis: Heartbeats centers on two close friends, Francis (Xavier Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri), who find themselves fighting for the affections of the same striking young man (Neils Schneider). The more intimate the trio becomes, the more unattainable the object of their infatuation seems, sending the friends’ obsession into overdrive.

Heartbeats’ narrative may be a simple one, but it’s matched cleverly by the overindulgence in hyper-stylised aesthetic. This achieves Dolan’s overall purpose through the use of tricks and gimmicks – such as slow-motion, an intense pallet and musical motifs – controlling the viewer’s experience and capturing the superficiality of Marie and Francis’ banal obsession with Nicolas.

His self-asserting directing style is a lot like that of Pedro Almodóvar, Gus Van Sant and Wong Kar-wai – idolising both the vivacity of woman as well as the inherent beauty of men, blurring the boundaries of sexuality in the process. He does this with laid-back, lingering cinematography and striking set designs, making use of vivid colours to represent many of the themes explored within the context of the narrative. Some may think of it as style over substance, but the way in which Dolan shapes his characters and their reactions to one another shows that this is simply isn’t the case.

Through his emphatic writing, Dolan fashions a classic ménage à trois tale about the trials and tribulations of love, obsession and jealousy, often exquisitely echoing two fairly recent examples: Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También and John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus. Heartbeats is a simple story about how, due to our exceedingly high expectations, we let ourselves down by making brash, off the cuff decisions that never work out. Dolan’s understanding of such a complex and indefinable subject shows him as a talent with a belief and knowledge of worldly ideals miles beyond his tender age.

Performance wise, the three leads are near flawless. Chokri brings a welcome level of wit and comprehension to Maria, which is beautifully undercut by her obvious flaws, most noteworthy her naivety towards romance. Dolan, as expected, plays Francis as a straight up pretty boy with a severe lack of self-confidence and an inability to read people’s emotions. Schneider, to his merit, keeps Nicolas undeniably enchanting throughout. He may be the foil to Maria and Francis’ life-long friendship, and the object of both their obsessions, but he’s oblivious to the pain and destruction he’s causing. To some degree, this makes up for his deplorable carelessness.

This is all supported by a particularly brilliant and ecclectic soundtrack, featuring songs such as Dalida’s Bang Bang, Fever Ray’s Keep the Streets Empty for Me and The Kills’ Pass This On. Not only do these songs work incredibly well together, but they also add a new level of depth to the film, speaking louder than words themselves at times when dialogue isn’t possible.

Heartbeats is a remarkable, joyous, captivating, intricately stylised and extraordinarily well pieced together piece of cinema from a budding multi-faceted talent.

Review: I Killed My Mother (2009)

Synopsis: Hubert (Xavier Dolan), 16-year-old closeted homosexual, can’t stand his mother, Chantale (Anne Dorval). Everything about her irritates him, from her vulgar behaviour to her bad taste in wardrobe. But when he criticises her, she feigns indifference. One day he announces his decision to leave home, to go to live with his best friend Antonin (François Arnaud). She gives in, but a few days later, when she finds out from Antonin’s mother that the two boys are lovers, she changes her mind. Hubert is furious and runs away. He stays with a teacher who is sympathetic to his dilemma, but Chantale, tired of this ongoing war, turns to the boy’s father to see if he can reason with their son.

I Killed My Mother, actor/director Xavier Dolan’s widely praised directorial debut, is, in simple terms, a portrait of the complex bond between a young man and his deplorable mother. Dolan’s pivotal adulation for cinema is clearly reflected through his filmmaking style, and the way he borrows tricks – slow motion and penetrating camera angles – used by filmmakers he is clearly trying to emulate – Gus Van Sant, Gregg Akari and Pedro Almodóvar are three names that leap to mind. However, instead of blatantly copying these techniques, he adapts and weaves them into his own brand of storytelling, making them very much his own style and reflection of his own creativity.

He uses the camera and frame positioning to beautifully emphasise the separation of mother and son, which, considering he’s also the films central character, is not only an incredible achievement for a first time director, but also a mind-blowing one for someone so young and inexperienced. The camera, which is almost entirely locked into medium shot or extreme close up, never lets the characters out-of-sight, and sublimely captures the angst and emotionally shutdown nature of their lives. In addition, the film is beautifully scored by Nicholas Savard-L’Herbier with sounds that seamlessly compliment the tone and emotional distortion of the exceptionally constructed and procured scenes.

The script, also a product of the multi-talented Dolan, is well-paced, insightful and unexpectedly packed full of dark humour. The dialogue is forthright and unpredictable, which makes it even more believable, as if coming straight from Dolan’s childhood. The relationship between mother and son, though authentic for the most part, is made slightly less so by the constant arguments and shouting matches they share. Thankfully, then, the indisputable tension is broken up by a candid monologue by Hubert, flashbacks to his idyllic childhood and once treasured relationship between mother and son, and a brilliantly conceived and executed illustration of homosexuality. For the most part, it’s a tremendous balance, even if it does start to feel a little too organised and pretentious towards the end.

The performances across the board are top-notch. Both Dolan and Dorval deliver astonishingly lifelike performances as Hubert and Chantale respectively. Dolan conveys the teenage angst terrifically, while Dorval balances Chantale’s clueless yet caring nature to truly wondrous avail, bearing much of her taut emotion in her eyes. Arnaud, Suzanne Clément and Niels Schneider, who fill out the more substantial supporting roles, each deliver equally fraught, imperative turns.

I Killed My Mother is, quite explicitly, a remarkable portrait of the tempestuous relationship between a mother and a son. Not only does Dolan display a strong cinematic eye and technical expertise beyond his tender years, but also the maturity to write a deeply resonant, almost semi-biographical, coming-of-age tale.