Tom At The Farm (Tom A La Ferme)
This is a rarity; a mature film that reverberates with the exuberance of youth. And it comes from the young French Canadian, Xavier Dolan, who, after four challenging films in as many years, looks set to lose his obligatory enfant terrible tag and take a rightful place amongst the leading filmmakers of world cinema.
Which does not mean to say that Dolan has sold out or compromised his worldview; all the usual themes remain in tact. But in adapting Michel Marc Bouchard’s play of the same name, it brings a different discipline to his work that enhances rather than distracts from it.
Tom At The Farm is a jet black thriller cum psychodrama that moves from Dolan’s usual urban locales to the remote plains of North Canada where law enforcement doesn’t extend much beyond barring psychopaths from local bars and screams drift away on the winds without being heard.
It pushes characters and the audience to the limits but without employing the overt shock tactics of some so-called experimental cinema, which is already looking retro, cliché ridden. Instead, Dolan delves into the past in a different way, exploring the internalised suspense of Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’, adapting the subtle transformative claustrophobia from Polanski’s underrated gender bender, ‘The Tenant’, and breathing new life into the outsider alienation that distinguished Van Sant’s early work; perfectly blending genre conventions with an art-house sensibility, which falls somewhere between pastiche and parody and pulls off a rare cinematic trick, appearing to be contemporary and timeless at one and the same time. Jeff Nichols’ films have a similar quality.
As with his first two features, Dolan plays the lead. This time a hipster, Tom, who arrives unannounced at an isolated farm for his gay lover’s funeral. He encounters Agathe, a mother overcome with grief, and Francis, a beastly Rottweiler of a brother. Agathe knows nothing of her son’s homosexuality and Francis intends to keep it that way.
And what a conflicted and fascinating character Francis is. One minute homophobic and the next, homoerotic, we never get his measure and nor does Tom. He drifts from the needy to the brutal, engaging with Tom in dangerous faux sexual games where they both attract and repulse each other in equal measure.
They conjure up a fake girlfriend, Sara, for the dead brother. Agathe despises her for not attending the funeral – “whore” – but is deeply touched when Tom relays his own feelings in her name when recounting a non-existent telephone conversation.
It’s a superb set-up, one that Dolan crafts into a creepy and enthralling nail biting 102 mins, entrapping us in a world, from which, like Tom, we want to escape but feel compelled to remain.
Dolan gives a nuanced performance of some perception as a misfit caught at a crossroads with all entrances going nowhere, and Pierre-Yves Cardinal and Lisa Roy are just as convincing as Francis and Agathe respectively.
Experienced cinematographer, André Turpin, finds wonder and menace in the terrain and frames the picture with eye-catching opening and closing shots that put us in mind of ‘North By North West’.
And Gabriel Yared’s smart score uses Bernard Herrmann-esque filters; sometimes giving us a sense of justified foreboding and other times sending us down a blind alley.
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- Year: 2013
- Country: Canada and France
- Filmmaker: Xavier Dolan
- Screenwriter: Xavier Dolan and Michel Marc Bouchard
- Producer: Xavier Dolan, Charles Gillibert and Nathanaël Karmitz
- Cinematographer: André Turpin
- Editor: Xavier Dolan
- Cast: Xavier Dolan, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Lisa Roy and Evelyne Brochu
- Duration: 102 mins