Aujourd’hui c’est comme une partie de moi qui meurt et puis je n’arrive pas à pleurer.
Maintenant ce qu’il nous reste à faire sans toi c’est te remplacer.
Today a part of me has died and I can’t cry.
Now all I can do without you is replace you.
This is Xavier Dolan’s fourth feature, and the first to be based on material that Dolan hadn’t already created (in this case a play by Michel Marc Bouchard, with whom Dolan collaborated on the screenplay).
It’s a departure for the director in other ways too. There is only one returning cast member from previous films (his father, Manuel Tadros) and I didn’t see the tea being poured – although it can be heard (see other posts for details!).
While it’s perhaps a little unfair to say that Dolan has given himself the opportunity to explore genre film-making with this psychological almost-thriller, the tone of this is altogether different from his previous work. The mind-games at play between the characters are not frivolous affairs of the heart, but more sinister and twisted, with the menace of real violence as an undercurrent.
Dolan plays city boy Tom, who turns up at his (now deceased) boyfriend Guillaume’s family home to attend the funeral. He discovers that the mother has no knowledge of his existence and doesn’t realise that her son was gay, and that there is also a brother (Francis) who immediately coerces Tom into not revealing this information and playing along with the charade. Once the funeral is over, and we expect Tom to return to the city, things change.
Francis is a violent, isolated character who appears to have some issues of his own regarding his sexuality, and he exerts pressure on Tom to become an additional pair of hands on the farm. Tom acquiesces quite easily (too easily?), submitting to Francis’ heavy-handedness as if he feels he needs to be punished for Guillaume’s death. He also sees something of Guillaume in the brother, and there is a distinct connection between the two. Is Tom perhaps showing signs of Stockholm syndrome? He appears to be trapped but doesn’t realise it – he thinks he’s in control.
The colour palette is muted, in definite contrast to Les amours imaginaires and Laurence Anyways, with Tom’s hair exactly matching the colour of the tall corn in the fields.
The score is very Hitchcockian in places, which underlines the psychological thriller aspect of the film. I actually think Dolan could have gone even further in exploring this aspect, and that although we need the arrival of Sarah to help us as the audience to realise what’s been going on, she broke the tension between Tom and Francis at a point where we could have done with more.
The music choices are again perfect, with the opening sequence set to a French-language version of Windmills of my Mind one of the highlights. And one of my favourite scenes echoes Wong-Kar Wai’s Happy Together, as Tom and Francis tango together in an empty shed to the sounds of the Gotan Project. Both are below for your delectation and delight.