This week’s reviews are biblical
Divergent – Stacy Grouden threatens the status quo.
The Double – Sarah Griffin meets Sarah Griffin.
Noah – Stephen McNeice gets into the ark, for to get out of the rain.
DIR/WRI: Xavier Dolan • PRO: Xavier Dolan, Charles Gillibert, Nathanaël Karmitz • DOP: André Turpin • ED: Xavier Dolan • MUS: Gabriel Yared • CAST: Xavier Dolan, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Lise Roy
Early reviews from Tom At The Farm suggest that the film marks Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan venturing into properly ‘genre’ territory for the first time. However, while the film does utilise – and subvert – the tropes of a standard thriller, it so constantly sidesteps convention and audience expectation that any formal generic classification proves woefully inadequate.
After retreating exclusively behind the camera for his last film – the epic transgender relationship study Laurence Anyways – Dolan opts to take the lead role of Tom here. The story, adapted from a play of the same name by Michel Marc Bouchard, has Tom travel to his lover Guillaume’s funeral somewhere in rural Quebec. It transpires that the deceased’s mother, Agathe (Lise Roy), had no idea her son was gay. Tom is told in no uncertain terms to keep the secret, well, secret by Guillaume’s violent, quite possibly unhinged brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal). Initially intending to leave immediately, Tom finds himself increasingly fascinated by Agathe and particularly Francis, and opts to stick around. But as the lies pile on top of each other, it’s uncertain if secrets can stay hidden.
Homosexuality has been a key theme of Dolan’s films to date, and it’s central to Tom at the Farm’s drama. Initially Francis seems like your standard bigot, disgusted at his brother’s sexuality and committed to keeping it secret at whatever cost (especially if that cost is some sort of serious assault). However, as the film progresses a sort of masochistic homoerotic tension begins to develop between Francis and Tom. It’s a strange sort of relationship to witness, and leads to scenes playing out in ways the audience is unlikely to expect or predict. At its best, the film manages to paint Francis as an angry, self-destructive enigma, and captures Tom’s journey of self-discovery, as well as his potentially dangerous curiosity about his dead boyfriend’s unstable brother. There’s a few welcome narrative curveballs thrown into the mix, such as an ever-escalating attempt to persuade Agathe that Guillaume actually had a girlfriend.
Unfortunately, all this can also stretch credibility. It’s hard to get a firm grasp on any of the characters, who seem borderline schizophrenic at times. Occasionally it can be quite potently ambiguous (details of the characters’ backstories, for example, are doled out in a nicely controlled fashion), but a lot of the time it can be pretty frustrating as these people act in illogical, maybe even contradictory ways without much coherent rhyme or reason. There’s lots of room here for viewers to read into subtleties and hints – there’s a purposeful lack of concrete answers – but it’s sometimes worth asking how effective that ambiguity is: the ending particularly will annoy the hell out of anyone seeking something more definitive. Although some of the themes are clearly very personal to Dolan, it’s a film that feels somewhat cold and clinical overall.
Dolan can’t resist filming this in an impressively vibrant way – significantly pared back from the proudly indulgent Laurence Anyways, but still immaculately composed. That includes the finest aerial shot of Canadian farmland you’re likely to see in the foreseeable future. While Dolan constantly sidesteps predictable drama, there are a number of traditionally ‘thriller’ scenes – a fight, a threat or a chase here and there. Interestingly, Dolan chooses to explicitly utilise the aesthetics of genre cinema for these moments. The aspect ratio dynamically narrows, the lighting becomes more explicitly stylised, and the soundtrack bursts to life with the sound of excited strings. It’s an interesting and largely effective directorial choice, although most notably serves to highlight how the narrative steadfastly refuses to conform to convention despite seemingly borrowing some familiar tools. That playful adaptation of genre norms is to be celebrated, although ultimately the film is a strange mix of curious experimentation and frustrating elusiveness.
Tom At The Farm is released on 4th April 2014
Kill Your Darlings
The 70th Venice Film Festival (28th August – 7th September 2013)
Matt Micucci reports from the fifth day of the Venice Film Festival and is impressed by the performance of the man formerly known as Harry Potter.
I wake up early to try, for the second day in a row, to make the screening of Philomena. This time will be my last chance to catch it in Venice. Fortunately, this time it is also taking place in a much bigger screen and I am able to get in.
The film is truly wonderful. The story is based on true events, and it is about the titular character who, with the help of a journalist, searches for her son who was taken away from her by the Magdalene Sisters fifty years ago. The screenplay is wonderfully balanced. It is a deeply touching drama with an edgy sense of humour which deals with a delicate subject in a legitimate and yet edgy way. The audience too seems to greatly appreciate the film. A lot of laughs, a lot of tears and even five rounds of applauses during the screening as well as a very lengthy final one when the credits start rolling.
The performances in Philomena are very impressive. Judi Dench delivers her best performance in years which already places her in the front line for an Oscar. However, I can’t help but think that it is Steve Coogan who truly impresses the audience, especially ones who still only saw him as the guy from the Jackie Chan version of Around the World in 80 Days. Coogan’s performance gives him that credibility as an actor that he has deserved, in my opinion, for a long time, and the fact that he has co-written the script and produced the project is an added bonus which will boost his reputation on an international scale and probably rid him of the mere comedian label.
Later on I am to attend another big screening, possibly the biggest screening of the whole Venice Days selection at this year’s festival – Kill Your Darlings by John Krodikas. It tells the story of Ginsberg, Kerouac and Borroughs before they became literary icons. Despite the fact that a film about the meeting between these iconic beat writers is what is an interesting factor in itself, the crowds of people that have gathered around the red carpet and the Sala Darsena where the film will be shown are here for the man formerly known as Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe.
The screening is expected to be so big that we are told to show up at least one hour earlier to make sure that we will get in. I have no choice in the matter, since Kill Your Darlings will be the main topic of discussion in the film criticism masterclass which I am to be attending tomorrow. Thankfully, my badge gets me past the many teenage girls that stand at the entrance asking each other whether they are there for Daniel. Some of them have travelled quite a long distance to attend. It doesn’t annoy me however, and I think to myself that it’s nice to see that festivals, even through star power, are still able to bring so many people together. But perhaps I only think that because, like I said, I have a pass that allows me to get right to the screening room doors and avoid the queue.
Despite the fact that I still had to wait over an hour for the film to start, the film is actually quite enjoyable. Krokidas realty impresses me when he says that the film took twenty-four days to shoot not only because the final project looked so good, but also because even the tiny imperfections seem true to the style of prose of beat writers – for instance, as referred to in the film, Kerouac was always one to miss a comma or two. And despite the teen idol reputation, Daniel Radcliffe really turns in a good performance as Allen Ginsberg. It’s quite a daring performance, especially when in the final scenes he picks up another man and they are shown having sex together. It also made me laugh to think of the mothers who knew nothing about the films and took their daughters to see a film they might have thought more family friendly.
For the first time since I arrived at Venice, I decide to follow the screening up with another one. This one is by the new Xavier Dolan film Tom at the Farm. I am not familiar with his works, though I will check his stuff out soon no doubt, because I am very impressed by the grittiness and dark side of attachment and even affection which the film decides to explore. It is the story of Tom who visits his boyfriend’s family for the funeral. Once there, he meets his lover’s brother, who does nothing but hassle him psychologically to the point of practically kidnapping him to use him for his mother’s happiness. It’s a bizarre and dark tale, which deals with themes like the theme of loss and has a strong taste for fetishism. Yet, the most interesting aspect about it is that it feels like a dark comedy rather than a drama, and that is the reason why it comes across as entertaining in its strangeness without ever feeling tasteless.
After that, I am to attend a film called Traitors. Set in Morocco, it’s the story of a girl who wants to raise enough money to record a demo for a music producer with her punk band. To do so, she eventually agrees to drive a car full of drugs from one point to the other for a gangster she fixes the car for. The film too closely resembles Maria Full of Grace, which wasn’t released long enough ago for people to have forgotten about it. Even though it’s entertaining and can’t be faulted in its narrative stableness, it never has much tension, and the acting lacks chemistry and verve. Thus, it is quite unremarkable. It does, however, make me consider the element of girl punk rockers, an element it shares with the other underwhelming We’re the Best by Moodysson and which seems to be a minor trend at Venice this year, undoubtedly inspired by the story of Pussy Riot.