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.