Heartbeats – Starring Xavier Dolan, Monia Chokri and Niels Schneider. Directed by Xavier Dolan. By Simon Miraudo.
It’s fitting that the latest picture from Canadian actor/writer/director Xavier Dolan takes its cues from the American mumblecore movement and the French New Wave. The Québécois wunderkind – caught between the United States and Europe – delivers an ultra-stylish and hypnotic romantic comedy filled with pathos, humour and truth. It tells the story of Francis (Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri), two friends who fall madly in love with manic-pixie-dreamboy Nicolas (Niels Schneider). The object of their affection is either profoundly cruel or blissfully unaware of the competitive duos intentions. Either way, Francis and Marie’s friendship faces disintegration as they do battle over their hipster sweetheart.
Heartbeats could easily be compared with Francois Truffaut’s Jules et Jim or Andrew Bujalski’s Mutual Appreciation, but its closest spiritual relation is Marc Webb’s 500 Days of Summer. Neither film is a traditional love story. Rather, they are about the love stories we create in our mind; the soul-mates we invent and then chase with all of our hearts. Heartbeats’ native title – Les Amours Imaginaires/Love, Imagined – pretty much acknowledges this. Heartbeats and 500 Days are equally slick and funny, yet drenched in sadness, and most confronting of all, easy to identify with.
Dolan’s stylistic touches and cinematic tributes make Heartbeats a sumptuous, striking pleasure. But don’t be fooled by all that fanciness; although he probably wouldn’t like to admit it, he owes a great deal to traditional American romcoms, which he doesn’t so much subvert as he does pay homage. The film is littered with intimate (and seemingly improvised) interstitials in which broken-hearted individuals share their tales of desperation and regret. It’s almost the exact opposite of the “falling in love”-stories told by elderly married couples in When Harry Met Sally. It does however create the same effect: it reminds us that we’re not the only ones experiencing these messy feelings, be it love, heartbreak, or whatever.
The central love triangle is not so unusual either (providing we’re all adult enough to accept the fluid sexuality of this troika). We’ve seen it all before, in Casablanca, There’s Something About Mary and even The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. The difference lay in the execution (as it always does). Dolan balances his extroverted filmmaking with his own introverted performance. As an actor, he evokes aching and longing with great subtlety (excluding a particularly uncomfortable masturbation sequence). As a director, he sometimes seems like Gaspar Noe directing a music video for the Klaxons. But his witty, brutal, painful screenplay expertly bridges the seemingly-uncrossable gap between these two extremes. Chokri is equally impressive as the equally wounded Marie. Credit should also go to Niels Schneider. It can’t be easy playing a vapid adonis; a Bella Swan-esque cipher, used only as a canvas for Marie and Francis’ expectations and attractions. But he gets it right. This film gets it all right.
Heartbeats has an exclusive two week season at the Perth International Arts Festival from December 27, 2010 to January 9, 2011. Click here for more details.