Saw Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats tonight at the State Theatre – was curious to see what this precocious 20-year-old would do with his second feature, which was billed as a queer love triangle based on his own experiences. The basic premise is two best friends, Marie and Francis, who both fall for the same guy the instant they lay eyes on him – Nicolas, a golden, tousle-curled nymph that would probably make Apollo feel jealous. No sooner do they set their sights on him than they both begin to get the ‘crazies’, and the friendship starts to splinter under the crushing weight of petty jealousy and distrust.
Dolan himself takes the role of androgynous cutie Francis, while Niels Schneider and Monia Chokri take the other points in the triangle. The clothes are predictably fabulous – throw together Dolan’s metrosexual fashion sense, the op-shop hipster threads of Montreal and Marie’s penchant for vintage, and you get an ultra hip aesthetic, which matches a luscious colour palette of reds, blues, greens, and the yellowing leaves of countryside Quebec.
Dolan’s approach is super stylised, with lots of slow-motion action set to a killer soundtrack that jumps easily between a Spanish version of Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Bang Bang’ and House of Pain’s hip hop classic ‘Jump Around’. The camera lingers lovingly on beautifully composed shots, vivid fantasies of Nicolas set against a blue sky that is raining marshmallows, and titillating details such as the effect of a pair of red patent stilettos against the green-yellow leaves of a woodland pathway.
It’s not all style, however; Dolan’s thesis, though simple, is powerful – the more so because it is so familiar to us all: you fall in love, and suddenly your whole perspective is in tunnel vision, and nothing else matters; you become consumed by anxiety, excitement, passionate urges, confusion. More significantly, perhaps, is Dolan’s addition to the canon of young, queer cinema – anyone who has ever heard those painful, disdainfully uttered words “how could you think I was gay?” – will appreciate seeing the moment writ large, and beautiful, on screen.
I think the reason this film kept the State Theatre audience happy – with its diverse demographics – is its incredibly universal subject matter, and its unfailing sense of humour. The main story is interspersed with ‘vox-pop’-style interviews with various young lovers, sharing all the excruciating details of their past romances: the obsessive-compulsive attention to email, the humiliations of unrequited feelings, the irrational rationalisations. It’s all so funny, because it’s all so very true. [DJ]
NB – Xavier Dolan’s debut feature, I Killed My Mother, is also screening at Sydney Film Festival, on June 4 & 8.