Heartbeats (2010)

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First time with Xavier Dolan. “Grade A-“!

No ugliness in XD’s world (just noticed: not great initials for 2017). Great in HD: colours so full you can taste them; urbane grace in the costuming honoured with appropriately ostentatious closeups and framing. Definitely Wong Kar-wai in this modern but stately elegance, the taut emotion, and the at-times distracting foregrounding of form. Too much structural rigidity here for me – the intermittent rounds of monologues seemed only to provide illustrative context on the tensions and conundrums of relationships in a millennial world (in a way that I think could have been done in the main plot), while the oscillating bedroom-scenes were sultry (lovely cellos) but with a predictable trajectory that left me increasingly with a sense of impatience. I do wonder, though: there’s a nice touch at the end where Dolan’s Francis (standout performances from both behind and in front of the camera) attempts to prop a Bauhaus catalogue against a window but is frustratingly unable to make it sit flush on the sill. A sense of life’s stubborn informality which isn’t born out so much elsewhere, unfortunately.

That said, it is beautifully assembled. Loved the echoing approach scenes, gladiatorial comfort in armour of assembly, Dalida’s Italian ‘Bang Bang’ cover with an almost Western melancholic inevitability (maybe the wilted but defiant beauty of a tired standard revitalised?) to the film’s romantic deterioration (Some nice soundtracking by The Knife, also). Was filled with some dread after the apparently needless zooming in and out during the opening monologues but was reassured by the neatly handled (very WKW) shot of F and Marie chopping veg at the party, backs turned with only the sound of knives clacking before HEARTBEATS. The breathless closeups of chance encounters, waiting, fights are all quite intoxicatingly elliptic and disorientating in a way that recalled Moonlight. There are some moments when Dolan’s direction is amusingly present: jousting over Nicolas’ mysterious affections the camera whizzes between F and Marie as if it were an eager spectator goading each of them on.

There is a loosely-handled theme of complexity, greys between black and white: one recurring monologist discusses the spectrum of sexuality, while the ambiguity of N’s orientation is toyed with allusively, as when he criticises the “Manichaean” simplicity of a play’s characters. This culminates in a couple of extremely savage rejections (after which the eventual reconciliation comes like a reprieve), but the wells had been poisoned long before the conclusion. As these two old friends spar over a mutual interruption – N as distressingly disruptive a force as Terrence Stamp in Pasonlini’s Teorema – there’s a sort of deep-seated ugliness that grows beneath the trimmed and flourished exteriors. There’s a moment at a party, comparing birthday gifts, when I felt a rush of sadness at the spiritual state of these two – not the sympathetic and romantic sadness that comes inevitably later (or the especially poignant reflections on F’s feelings of alienated futility), but a more general sadness at the film-world they seemed trapped in, where everyone seemed totally alone. In the end they drift over to Louis Garrell (from Christophe Honoré’s ridiculous and boring Ma Mère), who I knew was in this and actually thought had played N all along, so much does he resemble Niels Schneider. Again a depressing sense of circularity.

Looked great plus I admired the low-budget simplicity and the uncompromising commitment, so feeling upbeat about XD’s other stuff.

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