Sunday, 10 July 2011

FILM REVIEW: Heartbeats


Forgive me if this is not purely a coherent, structured review, because a film that blows you away and fills you with such a high like Heartbeats deserves a fan-like spiel that makes absolutely no sense, but will hopefully convey the excitement to others who will then seek out the film, if only for amusement purposes.

It's like no ménage à trois you've ever seen before. It's been compared to Jules et Jim and The Dreamers but Heartbeats is a film which stands completely on its own. There is no real relationship here. Best friends Marie and Francis both fall for the same guy: airhead flirt 'Adonis' Nicolas with his mop of golden curls and an ability to charm everyone in the room. He enjoys spending time with them as a friendship-threesome (or does he unconsciously enjoy playing them off against one another?), but the more time they spend together the more fixated and jealous Marie and Francis become until their own friendship ultimately suffers. But forget all of that, because the plot is just the framework here. The real magic happens around it.

The vision and styling of the film is just spectacular. Modern day Montreal is dressed up in the New Wave: every outfit, hair style, house, cafe, object has a romantic vintage feel to it, the colours fizzing and popping every where you look. Xavier Dolan indulges us more with sumptuous slow-motion sequences, following the characters as they walk down the streets, emphasising every flick of the head and shake of the hips. It's hypnotic to watch. Some of the shots he chooses to use, though simple, have a real sticking power to them: watching Marie's legs as she sits on the stairs, talking to Francis on the phone as cigarettes fly down at her feet "by the way I've quit smoking." And of course, Nico smiling with his eyes closed as marshmallows rain around him. The very notion of sex God!

The acting was great too -  Monia Chokri perfect as wide-eyed smiling Marie who suppresses her feelings in fits and smoke, and director/writer Xavier Dolan puts in the best performance as the tortured gay man who marks off his rejections on his bathroom wall (I was rooting for him throughout). Niels Schneider is probably the weakest link of the three as Nicolas, which is ironic as he is the heartbeat pulsing through the film, the one placed on the pedestal.

But what made the film for me was the music. It was SO good. Not since Garden State have I wanted to rush out and buy a soundtrack as much as this (and to be honest, not since GS have I been so holistically praiseworthy of a film). Unfortunately no such OST exists, so I've had to acquire the tracks individually and make my own. I've had this song stuck in my head for several days now:

And it will forever transport me back to that film (lovely happy memories listening to it again now).

Xavier Dolan is a master. He wrote this, directed it, starred in it, styled the film, picked the costumes, chose the music... and he's younger than me. It's enough to make one feel physically sick, but instead I just want to worship his talent. He is one of only a few people I have ever witnessed translate and visualise complex emotions so authentically. He literally made me light up and want to squeal, "oh my God, I know exactly what she's feeling!" My favourite scene of the whole film was when Nico and Maria go to see a play and discussing it afterwards both found it 'disappointing'. Maria then suggests they go for a meal at a Vietnamese restaurant near her house for a private tête à tête - and is devastated to find Francis and her friends there, whom Nico immediately goes to join. She sits with them, fuming, and when Francis asks her about the play she moodily replies, "it was awful." I also loved how he portrayed the other's reaction when Nico was focusing his attention away - and Dolan himself demonstrated this in his own pitch perfect acting - looking away whenever Nico goes to greet Maria with a kiss as it's too 'hurtful' to watch - amazing stuff. I am in awe of people who can find a way to do this so eloquently, and so truthfully. The only bum note was the last two minutes of the film, where Maria and Francis re-united in their hatred for Nico after he spurns them both so cruelly spot a new Adonis to obsess on, indicating the film will replay itself again. Bit too twee for me - like the ending of 500 Days of Summer. But now I really want to see his first feature: I Killed My Mother.

Heartbeats won't be to everyone's taste; it does take some time to get into the flow of it. One guy sat behind me in the cinema started laughing at the very beginning of the film as the scene was very OTT. But then you realise it isn't, that's just the tone of the film, and I didn't hear him laugh again (...maybe he left). I've been wanting to see this film for months (unfortunately missed it at the London Film Festival last year), and had an inkling I'd love it as I do have a penchant for French Canadian anything (and now want to go to Montreal). The plot was thin but the aesthetic, lush, over the top exquisite filmmaking carried it.  

Heartbeats is now one of my favourite things of ever. SO GO SEE IT IMMEDIATELY. That's not a request.

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