Friday 24 November 2017

Movies: Heartbeats **

Paul Whitington

There's nothing so attractive as that which is just out of reach and apparently unattainable, and French-Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan weaves this age-old truth into an extravagant and undisciplined 95-minute feature film.

Dolan, who wrote, directs, edited and stars in Heartbeats (Les Amours Imaginaires), was only 21 when he did so, and perhaps one should then forgive his tendencies towards pretention. But it's not easy, because from its showy direction and portentous dialogue to its clumsy themes and heavy-handed soundtrack, Heartbeats is pretty tough going.

Dolan plays Francis, a sensitive Montreal homosexual who's best friends with a rather arch young woman called Marie (Monia Chokri), who dresses in 50s vintage and is discontented with her personal life. They go to parties together and make snide remarks about the other guests. But when they meet a handsome young man called Nicolas (Niels Schneider), they both change their tune.

Nicolas is svelte and blonde and looks like a Greek adonis: he befriends both of them and seems affable in a dreamy sort of way, but is vaguely androgynous and unclear about his sexuality.

Both Marie and Francis fall hopelessly in love with him, but each time one of them seems on the point of getting somewhere with him, he pulls away and moves towards the other.

Whether or not he's doing all this deliberately is not clear, but he certainly seems to enjoy the adulation, and things reach a crisis when the three of them leave Montreal for a weekend in the country.

Dolan is clearly a keen cinephile, and has probably seen Francois Truffaut's Jules et Jim more than once. The echoes of that film are unmistakable in this one: at one point the three principals share a bed, and a mutually beneficial special arrangement seems on the cards. But where Jules et Jim was all hidden depths and innovative leaps in style, Heartbeats is showy and flippant and has all the depth of an ice-cream wafer.

All three characters are thoroughly objectionable, and Marie and Francis' passion for Nicolas is so thoroughly juvenile it's hard to take seriously. Whenever there's a lull in the proceedings, Dolan resorts to slow-motion shots of his characters ambling towards emotional disaster accompanied by loud and melodramatic music. Sometimes all of this looks fairly nice but it advances one's understanding of the characters not one jot.

Neither do the the frequent love scenes (of both flavours, though with the emphasis on the homosexual). Add some ghastly lines that fetishise the 19th-century romantic notion of doomed love, and you end up with a pretty juvenile concoction.

Dolan is a decent actor, and clearly has other talents. But if he wants to become a serious film-maker, he'll have to swap a little of his style for substance.

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