Friday, 9 September 2011

I KILLED MY MOTHER and HEARTBEATS: the ambiguities of love

While I Killed my Mother and Heartbeats are different films, in both Xavier Dolan (who also acts in them) explores the complexities and ambiguities of love, sexuality, the constantly shifting boundaries between love and friendship, and the fragility of the perception we gather from the signs that people around us, our dearest or those to whom we are most attracted to, are constantly sending. 

Love, friendship, sexuality and the many facets of seduction are systematically dissected from, most importantly, a young person's viewpoint. Dolan was only 19 year old when he broke into the cinematic scene with I Killed my Mother, a tender yet sharp eye cast on the never ending seduction, and its sister, conflict, between a single mother, Chantale (Anne Dorval), and her son Hubert (Xavier Dolan). 

Heartbeats (Les amours imaginaires) followed it, portraying a couple of young close friends, Francis (Xavier Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri), who are unwittingly seduced by the recent addition to their social circle, Nicolas (Niels Schneider, who also plays the part of Éric, Hubert's boarding school friend in I Killed my Mother), a rich boy who had recently moved into Montréal from the country. Shades of the love triangle of Truffaut's Jules et Jim flash in here, although seen through the ambiguities of the prism of a 21st Century urbanite. A tale of seduction, of signs wrongly read – coloured by their fantasies, of the clash of conflicting moralities, of a fraying friendship. A tale of the emotional fragility moulding the sarcastic and bitchy masks worn by “pretty urbanite young things”, people who could be easily dismissed as frivolous. 

I am reviewing both films together, as I see them as a continuum in the themes explored, in their aesthetic, and the cinematic devices used to convey the stories. The frontal video interview, with harsh lighting (on occasions in black and white) is one of such devices, interviews at times confessional, as the protagonists and their friends spell their controversial, sometimes, views and inner thoughts on their friends, their lovers, their colleagues, their family, their bosses. 

However, I found the rendering of such interviews to be at times slightly annoying, particularly in Heartbeats, as the camera jumps back and forward in the close-ups, as if its operator could not take a decision on how to frame the actor. Subsequently it became clear that this was a stylistic device which I found irritating, distracting me from what the actor was conveying. 

The use of these interviews interwoven into the fabric of the films doubles as a metaphor for the social networks (and YouTube), where people, particularly the young, express their innermost thoughts, desires, hopes, sarcasm, snapshots of their minds, to, in many cases, complete strangers. It is not the case that privacy has disappeared, or it is disappearing, as Mark Zuckerberg seemed to have recently implied, but rather that its boundaries have significantly shifted as our social networks, in their scope and nature, have expanded considerably beyond geographic or geo-social vicinity. There is a scene in one of these confessional moments, which could be considered as key in Heartbeats, where a young man goes into a long exposé of the classification of masculine sexuality as defined in the Kinsey Report, to end asking:”What are you, tits or cock man?” (or thereabouts). The ambiguity of sexuality is starkly exposed here, and accepted, an act which would have been unthinkable forty or fifty years ago, at least publicly. 

I only can speculate if Dolan conceived both films as a sequence from the very beginning, or, perhaps, Heartbeats came after the positive reception that I Killed my Mother received, as he realized that the theme of love in a contemporary urbanite society called for further rendering. Perhaps a third one is in the making? 

Both films are stylistic and thematically brilliantly executed, I understand that I Killed my Mother got an 8 minutes standing ovation in Cannes in 2009. Surely, a considerably part of that success is due to the low key and brilliantly nuanced performances, such as the rainbow of emotions crossing the face of Hubert's mother in I Killed my Mother after one of the never ending disputes with her son. Dolan, an excellent actor himself, choreographed an intensely powerful yet low key emotionally charged moment.

Is Heartbeats for 2011 what Truffaut's Jules et Jim was for 1962, and Bertolucci's The Dreamers for 2003?

Heartbeats DVD contains an enlightening interview with Monia Chokri. 

I Killed my Mother and Heartbeats DVDs are released in the UK on Monday 12th September 2011.

We love our mothers almost unknowingly, unconsciously, and we fully realise how deep-rooted that love is when we come to the last separation." Guy de Maupassant Hubert Minel doesn’t love his mother. 

The seventeen-year-old regards her with haughty contempt, and sees only her dated sweaters, kitsch decorations and the breadcrumbs that get stuck on the corner of her lips when she munches. In addition to these irritating surface details, there are also the cherished family mechanisms of manipulation and guilt. Confused by a love/hate relationship which obsesses him more and more each day, and desperate to escape the suffocating atmosphere of his mother’s working-class, suburban home, Hubert drifts through the mysteries of an adolescence both marginal and typical: artistic discoveries, illicit experiences, the opening-up to friendship, sex, and ostracism. The directing debut of young French-Canadian actor Xavier Dolan is a cathartic, fiercely compelling evocation of turbulent late adolescence. 

Visually stunning, with exquisite performances from Dolan himself – as the volatile, verbally savage Hubert – and a highly acclaimed cast including Anne Dorval and Suzanne Clément, 'I Killed My Mother' was the winner of 22 international film awards in 2009, including three categories at Cannes.

The follow-up to his directorial debut I Killed My Mother explores the complex relationship between three young people which will draw favourable comparisons with Bertloucci’s The Dreamers, Truffaut’s Jules et Jim and Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love. HEARTEATS had previously been screened as part of the Certain Regard strand of the Cannes Marche du Film and The London Film Festival in 2010.   Francis (Xavier Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri) are close friends. 

The tight bond that they take comfortably for granted is severely tested when during lunch one day, they meet Nicolas (Niels Schneider), a new arrival in town from the country. As a beautiful young man, Nicolas becomes the object of desire for both Francis and Marie. As they slide further into their obsessive fantasies, the trusted friendship between Francis and Marie begins to crack under the pressure of competing for the affection of the new kid on the block. The film follows each stage of the progress of a love story- a most intriguing and compelling ménage. 

In turns crazy, passionate, hopeful, sorrowful, comical, sad, the film offers up an insightful look at the paths of falling in love and giving into obsession and what the consequence could be for both the pursued and the pursuers.  

To read further about Heartbeats please click HERE  

Post edited on 10 September 2011.

Trailers and images © Network Releasing.

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