Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Xavier Dolan
Stars: Xavier Dolan, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Lise Roy, Evelyn Brochu.
At the age of just 25, young French Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan (I Killed My Mother, Lawrence Anyways, etc) is a precocious and formidable talent. A former child actor he has certainly made his mark as a director, having already won numerous accolades and awards, and he has become something of a darling for the international critics. His fourth film as a director is the drama Tom At The Farm, which screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival earlier this year.
Adapted from Michel Marc Bouchard’s play, this is a tense and cleverly constructed claustrophobic thriller, which is bleaker in mood than anything else he has done to date. At first Tom At The Farm seems like a change of pace for the talented young director, but it still explores many themes common to his films – desire, loss, passion, the search for love, masculine identity, the troublesome relationship between a gay man and his mother, etc. Working closely with Bouchard, Dolan opens the material up slightly beyond its theatrical origins, but maintains its palpable air of tension and oppressive nature. As well as being a taut and tense psychological thriller in the style of classic Hitchcock, the film has an increasingly dark and disturbing edge, and is also suffused with a palpable sexual tension and homoerotic undertones. The innocuous title hardly prepares the audience for what follows.
Following the death of his lover Guilliaume, Tom (Dolan) arrives at his family’s rural farmhouse to attend the funeral and express his condolences. There he meets his lover’s mother Agathe (Lise Roy, who appeared in the original stage production), who is unaware of her deceased son’s sexuality, and his older brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal). There is some sort of attraction and a menacing tension between Tom and Francis that results in some brutal mind games being played out. Francis mentally and physically bullies and torments Tom in an effort to maintain the secret of Guillaume’s sexuality.
Agathe is unaware of her son’s sexuality and the nature of his relationship with Tom, who is reluctant to tell the truth. Secrets and lies and suppressed desires build up in a pressure cooker environment as the attraction between Tom and Francis plays out in a tense cat and mouse game. Even though Tom is aware of Francis’s violent and brutal homophobic nature, he still finds himself drawn towards him, and rather than flee the farm he sticks around. And a scene in which Francis forces Tom to share a dance with him in the barn is steeped in suspense and an air of uneasiness.
Tom At The Farm is Dolan’s second film that screened at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival, and is markedly different in tone to his disturbing psychological drama Mommy. Here Dolan’s direction is typically stylish, demonstrating an unusual eye for compositions and framing, and even managing to challenge the spirit of classic thriller directors like Hitchcock. He even changes the screen ratio during particularly tense confrontations to add to the claustrophobic mood, a familiar stylish touch from Dolan’s bag of directorial tricks.
Gabriel Yared’s chilling and evocative score also adds to the tension. And cinematographer Andre Turpin (Incendies, etc) brings a menacing quality to his lensing of the open countryside and the corn fields – not since the classic North By Northwest has the open spaces been so suffused with danger.
Dolan’s performance is good and he projects a nice vulnerability, but it is the volatile Cardinal who dominates proceedings with his intense and intimidating performance.
TOM AT THE FARM screens at ACMI for a limited season from September 18.