Monday, August 17, 2015

"Tom at the Farm": Dolan directs, stars in another quirky French (Canadian) head-games thriller

Tom at the Farm” (“Tom a la ferme”, 2013) is (now) 26-year-old Xavier Dolan’s latest trip in the work of quirky psychological thrillers and character studies involving some gay or bisexual characters, momism and family loyalty.  Most of the film seems to be shot in the St. Lawrence valley (because generally Quebec is not flat, but rocky with low mointains), but Dolan’s style seems to be evolving toward more mainstream French art cinema, whatever that means.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see Dolan make a thriller film in Paris or in France itself.  (The preposition is "at", not "on" -- like Tom is playing a sport on a road trip.) 

Tom (played by Dolan himself, made up to look blond) lets himself into the farm house belonging to the mother (Lisa Roy) of his boyfriend, Guillaume, after Guillaume had died in a not-detailed car accident. (I once did this in the quarters behind a motel in Colorado when no one was at the desk, and was rebuffed, but got a room.)  Mom has no idea that her deceased son had been gay, or of Tom’s relationship.  Soon, Guuillaume’s aggressive brother Francis (Pierre Yves-Cardinal) appears and collars Tom, insisting that he give a prepared speech at the funeral to make the family feel good.  Francis continues the bullying, trying to get Tom to make people believe he had been with a local “whore”, Sarah (Evelyne Brochu).  The pressure continues, as Tom (who works in Montreal in advertising) is goaded into working on the farm, which the family might lose.  Tom gets roughed up not only by Francis but by the work itself, banging him up and threatening his body image.

Francis, for all the talk of family honor (and its reproductive future) starts acting a bit like a closet case himself, faking forceful intimacy with Tom.  There are startling scenes in a bathroom stall, and later in a corn field (recalling a corn field sequence in the show “Smallville”).  In time, Tom, seduced by the family’s need and in a kind of “Stockholm” relationship, investigates, as a local owner tells Tom a story about how Francis got banned from the bar for a violent incident years ago, with ramifications today.
I’m not sure I buy the concluding sequence, with Tom driving back into Montreal at night during the closing credits.

The official site is here (Mk2 and Canal, with Amplify as the distributor, although this strikes me as an “A24” style film). Dolan now lists with DGC.  I wonder how he handles filming himself as a director. 

The music score includes a lot of passages from Arnold Schoenberg’s “Verklarte Nacht”, string orchestra version, as well as original music by Gabriel Yared, in schmaltzy Viennese style suggestive of Richard Strauss.

The film plays in Washington at the Angelika Pop-Up, which in a bit inconvenient for me.  I watched it on Amazon instant play ($6.99) in HD, and the film looks sharp, with great lighting and technique (standard aspect). Dolan sometimes crops close-ups with odd margins (like most of the film "Mommy"), like a scene from inside a family "letters" box looking at the people opening up the secrets. 
Wikipedia attribution link for Gaspe taiga photo (by province of Quebec), shared under Creative Commons Share Alike 2.0 license.  My visits to area, 1993 and 1977.  Second photo, family farm near Kipton, Ohio. 

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