To kick off my month looking at films from Canada, I picked the 2010 Sydney Film Prize winner Heartbeats (Les Amours Imaginaires) from extremely talented and young Québécois writer-director-actor Xavier Dolan. This is Dolan’s second feature film, his first being the semi-biographical I Killed My Mother (J’ai tué ma mère ) a surprise hit on the festival circuit in 2009, which he wrote, directed, and starred in, at the unimaginably young age of 19. As well as writing, directing, and starring in Heartbeats, Dolan also edits and takes care of the costume design – talk about accomplished! A stylish look at the sexuality and relationships of hip twenty-somethings, Heartbeats hits the right notes. Review after the jump!
Francis (Xavier Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri) are stylish twenty-something best friends who meet the cool and charming Nicolas (Niels Schneider) at a party. In the weeks that follow the party, the three often meet up and form the beginnings of a very close friendship – even going as far as sharing a bed together. However, it soon becomes clear that Francis and Marie are both interested in Nicolas as more than a friend, and this “competition” of sorts that they are having for his affections is damaging their own friendship. After a weekend at Nicolas’ mother’s holiday home where Nicolas sees Francis and Marie fighting about him, Nicolas is unimpressed and heads off to Europe leaving the pair to deal with their lust for him, and the potentially irreparable damage caused to their friendship.
This is a classic love-triangle story, but for the current generation of twenty-somethings – it is stylish, hip, and surprisingly brutal. While the young people may be quick to fall into lust and open their heart so quickly to someone new, it still hurts when it all goes wrong. The film actually opens with a group of equally stylish young people being interviewed about their failed romantic encounters. The film is interrupted by these interviews on a handful of occasions, and while I found this to be quite disruptive, they provide a break between the acts, and the stages of the relationships that the interviewees speak about, mimics the stage of the “relationship” that Francis and Marie are in with Nicolas.
Stylistically this film is extremely impressive; it may even verge on having too much style and not quite enough substance. The handheld camera is used to great effect, and surprisingly the movement didn’t annoy me as it usually does. The film has a limited colour-palate, but it uses this to its advantage, with bold primary colours being used to light several scenes (particularly at night), and as block colouring in the très chic clothing the characters wear. I particularly enjoyed the lighting during the bedroom scenes, as it was extremely contrasting and yet very sexy. In fact, this is a very sexy film for the most part – it’s a film about beautiful young people and their lust – how can it not be? And yet, while it is sexy, there are also moments of despair and heart-break. Dolan has obviously taking some real life experiences and fused them into this film – watching him explain that the tally on his bathroom wall represents the number of rejections he has had is painful, and it feels quite personal.
Finally I have to mention the music, which was the highlight for me. Classical pieces such as Bach’s Cello suite No.1 Prelude in G – Major, and moody songs like the extremely sensual Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) are used to great effect. There are several slow-motion scenes in which we watch the characters interacting (walking, smoking, looking, dancing etc) – these stylish scenes are set to the fantastic music, and make strong statements about the characters and their feelings. I’m not sure if the soundtrack is available for purchase, but if it is I really want to buy it.
Overall I enjoyed Heartbeats. It was a very stylish film with a great soundtrack, and accomplished performances from all three key cast members. I look forward to checking out Dolan’s latest project Lawrence Anyways (which he wrote and directed, but does not act in), which recently played at the Cannes Film Festival.
Director: Xavier Dolan
Writer(s): Xavier Dolan
Starring: Xavier Dolan, Monia Chokri, Niels Schneider
Runtime: 95 minutes