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Zack Mosley [Celluloid 09.30.13]

Last year I kinda gave Xavier Dolan shit for Laurence Anyways (review), a film I deemed "too fucking long" and perhaps too reliant on "perfume commercial overkill" in its aesthetic sensibilities. Well, I guess Dolan read my review and decided to turn his life around, because Tom at the Farm is a tightly wound thriller that dials back his trademark stylistic excess in favor of story. I don't mean to suggest that Tom at the Farm is generic. This is still a Xavier Dolan film through and through, but it grounds his queer themes and overindulgent cinematography in a structure that could be considered traditional. Adapting from a play by Michel Marc Bouchard, the 24-year old Dolan once again writes, directs and stars in his work, demonstrating prodigious talent in all aspects of his craft.

Tom (Xavier Dolan) is on his way to the boonies to attend the funeral of his late lover, Guillaume. A couple of issues, though: Guillaume's mother Agathe (Lise Roy) didn't know her son was gay, and is in fact furious that his beard "girlfriend" hasn't bothered to show up for his service. Also, Guillaume's older brother Francis (Pierre Yves-Cardinal) is a sociopathic bully who has gone to great lengths to maintain Guillaume's hetero standing with his oblivious mother. This dynamic sounds simple, but it's multi-faceted and complex. Dolan slowly peels back the layers of the story, compiling fragmented interactions between Tom and Francis and expecting the audience to make connections and infer subtext. Tom's failure to flee the hostile environment of the farm gradually morphs into something else, an obsession with the closest approximation to his late lover available, an embrace of some weird version of the pastoral ideal. Francis also transforms, from a monstrous heteronormative enforcer to a sad and lonely figure dealing with his own repressed desires, latent impulses that manifest in spontaneous bursts of abuse and affection. Much of this is implicit, portrayed with a healthy amount of room for interpretation. For instance, it's unclear whether Agathe is complicit in Francis' deception, deluding herself as much as she is being deluded.

Other reviewers have criticized Dolan for narcissism, citing the film's abundance of lingering close-ups. The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney is not the only critic to have made this observation, but he seems to have made it the loudest. Here's the thing: Dolan is the main character in the movie, and he's a good actor. This is a psychological thriller, a genre with a strong tradition of female protagonists. We don't seem to have a problem with Polanski lingering on close-ups of Catherine Deneuve or Mia Farrow, so what's with the double-standard? Woody Allen likes to star in his own movies, is he a narcissist? Or does he get a pass because he isn't much to look at? More than any of his other movies, the style of Tom at the Farm is in service of the story, so the accusation seems unfair. Dolan doesn't need me to defend him, however. He hit back on Twitter, telling @THRmovies “you can kiss my narcissistic ass”. Pretentions and self-indulgence are part of the package, it seems, love it or leave it alone.

Tom at the Farm isn't perfect, and it won't be for everyone. I found the end of the film somewhat anticlimactic, and wasn't entirely convinced by Tom's rapid descent into Stockholm syndrome. Dolan also employs an aesthetic gimmick, crushing the aspect ratio down to super-widescreen whenever Tom makes a break for it. I understand the thematic intent of this claustrophobic framing, but I found it distracting. To be fair, I also found it distracting in Christopher Nolan's Batfilms, so maybe I can only handle one aspect ratio at a time.

At 24 years of age, Xavier Dolan has made four feature films, each one compelling and worthwhile in its own right. Tom at the Farmcontinues the trend, and hopefully indicates that the precocious filmmaker still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve.

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ufo (8 years ago) Reply

Sounds like PC crap.

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