Thursday, July 14, 2011

Film #146: Heartbeats (Les Amours Imaginaires)

Earlier today, I was embroiled in a Facebook mini-controversy when I posted this:

I hope this happens to Harry Potter at the end of that movie. I'm so tired of seeing this character's name I could puke my guts out. Never before has the public been hoodwinked into loving something so worthless.

I had people telling me to just "chill out," and I had others telling me basically that I needed to screw off, get some therapy, and go out to take a walk. I replied:

What I REALLY need is a sense of taste to re-enter the culture. Every-fucking-one is so freakin' nerded out, it's pathetic. Get out of the tachyon collider and fucking pay attention to real life and real people in art. That's all I'm asking for. Enough with the witches, monsters, robots, zombies, aliens, spaceships, warriors, hit men, hot mamas, dick jokes, samarai, animated cars, Smurfs and superheroes. ENOUGH ALREADY! I'm just asking for some movies about some real people with real problems and real loves. Is that too much to ask?

Keyed up by facing a world that thinks I'm crazy for wanting something authentic in the movie realm (even though I admitted to loving the biggest danged American box-office hit of the year, Bridesmaids starring and co-written by the astounding Kristen Wiig), I decided to leave my comfortable but boxed-in post at the computer and venture out into the world. I visited an old friend, Floyd the Warlock, and when our time was done, I didn't want to go home.

So I called the extraordinary crew at Georgia State University's movie theater, Cinefest, and asked what was playing today. Heartbeats, they answered. And, though I had seen the trailer and been underwhelmed, I stopped off at the GSU campus and decided to take a look at Heartbeats. I now think, given my day on Facebook earlier, that the universe stoutly directed me to GSU's Cinefest for some real-time soul healin'.

Boy, am I glad I visited this tiny but glorious theater today. Nothing--NOTHING--is more extraordinary than seeing a truly great film when you're not expecting it. And Xavier Dolan's Heartbeats (or, as the Canadian film's original title more accurately calls it, Les Amours Imaginaires--The Imaginary Lovers) is a resolutely magnificent film.

I had read about the wunderind Xavier Dolan in the pages of Film Comment. But it took me seeing one of his films to say that, not only is he a unique voice in modern cinema, he very well might be the first great gay filmmaker out there (Gus Van Sant might best him, but Van Sant has buried his homosexuality in all of his films excepting My Own Private Idaho; I haven't seen Mala Noche yet; Ang Lee also places for Brokeback Mountain, particularly).

I'm heterosexual (sorry that I need to say that), but I've always been waiting for the first great openly gay filmmaker. There are a lot of gay films out there, but most of them are crappy, or campy, or preachy, or boring, or a damning combination of all four. I love Hettie MacDonald's Beautiful Thing--the single best gay movie ever made--but he hasn't followed it up with anything of note theatrically, and seems to have moved on to the more lucrative field of television direction. And I wanted to love Rose Troche's Go Fish and Lisa Cholodenko's High Art, but both left me wanting (Chodolenko's The Kids Are All Right was a home run, but not necessarily a gay movie per se).

With Canada's ridiculously young and vastly talented Xavier Dolan, I think that the film world has finally caught a glimpse of a savior of gay film. Of course, I'm only basing this on Les Amours Imaginaires, but I know a good thing when I see it.

Les Amours Imaginaires is a hilarious and moving comedy, but I didn't know it was a comedy going in; I only came to this conclusion after I found myself cackling mightily throughout the entire film. It tells the story of two best friends, Francis (played by Dolan in an appearance that smacks of personal experience) and Marie (Monia Chokri, fetchingly delivering a nuanced, energetic performance). At the beginning of the film, they are hosting a party, and as they are working away together in the kitchen, it becomes clear that both have set their sights upon one of their guests: a shaggy, blonde-haired, "self-satisfied Adonis" names Nicolas (the charismatic Niels Schneider).

The story is simple. It's not clear that Francis is gay, but it's obvious he's feeling some rumblings in that direction when he spots, and experiences, the crafty Nicolas. Meanwhile, Marie has much heat for Nicolas, too. We expect than when we actually get to meet the affected Nicolas that he's going to be a dumbbell. But he drops all the right names and seems intelligent enough. So all the lights are green...

The viewer is convinced that Nicolas might not be a bad guy at all. But as we see these two friends' relationship being torn asunder by Nicolas' later obvious manipulations, we realize we, too, have been hoodwinked by his surface charm. Hell, he's even made these two people try their best to be Audrey Hepburn and James Dean, and he ends up laughing at them for their efforts.

So the movie is about how these two friends are pitted against one another by a person that has no real scruples (there's an epilogue to this story that's perhaps the single best sequence I've seen all year, beginning with two people and an umbrella--itself, the best single shot I've seen in 2011). Throughout, there are peppery, and slightly pretentious but still likable punctuations to this story in the form of barely seen supporting players telling nakedly honest tales of love and loss. These scenes help to thicken this morality tale. But the sodden brilliance of Dolan's movie lies in that, at times, it feels like a tortured Wong Kar-Wei film that's been blended with the game ghost of John Hughes--what a heady combo of flavors this is! The movie is, like the best Hughes films, constantly funny (especially when it focuses in on Francis and Marie's lonely self-criticisms, and particularly Francis's frantic masturbations), but it's also dramatically surprising and, with its deft use of back-of-the-body super-slo-mo (a la Kar-Wei), it's also visually striking (the adept cinematographer, Stéphanie Weber-Biron, has a authentically valuable future in cinema, just as Dolan has).

Dolan is a superman. He acts as actor, director, producer, writer, costume designer, and editor. He is a solid talent. His Les Amours Imaginaires (or, in America, Heartbeats) is a colorful, frothy, substantial, funny, shocking, smart main course masked as a bountiful confection. I understand that, in Canada, where his film was nominated for four Genie awards (their Oscars), he's considered a self-absorbed hipster. Well, if self-absorbed hipsters can make films as well-acted, impeccably-filmed and smartly scored (what a soundtrack this film has!) as this, then damn! bring on the self-absorbed hipsters. Certainly none of that cabal in America has produced a movie as lovable, as enchanting, and as well-performed (seriously, all three leads are perfection) as Les Amours Imaginaires. I cannot wait to see Dolan's future work, and his past work as well.

(Xavier Dolan's Heartbeats (Les Amours Imaginaires), an award-winner at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, is playing at Atlanta's Cinefest until Sunday, July 17th! If you're an Atlanta movie nut, do yourself a favor and check this movie out!)

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