Review: Heartbeats

It has taken me a while to get my head around HEARTBEATS, I’m still not quite sure why it took me that long to fault a film that’s so obviously flawed. When reading this it must look as if I’m desperately trying to fault a film that possibly does not have any faults. I’d like to stress that this is not the case, watching HEARTBEATS is like almost completing a 2000 piece puzzle only for the final few pieces to be missing. Yes you can still admire it and you can clearly see what it could have looked like, but those missing few pieces stop it from being a whole.

HEARTBEATS is Dolan’s second within year, the first, I KILLED MY MOTHER was described by Dolan himself as being “almost semi-biographical”. HEARTBEATS is a film hinged around the relationship of three friends who are all spread across the sexuality spectrum, Francis (Xavier Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri) both fall for the sexually fluid Nicolas (Niels Schneider) and in their desperate attempts to make Nicholas fall in love with them they both go to destructive lengths to get their way with Nicholas.

As previously mentioned Dolan’s last film was “semi-biographical” and with that in mind one could potentially come to the conclusion that casting himself in this film was also a “semi-biographical” move on Dolan’s part. This could go some distance to explain why Francis as a character is so much more developed than the others. We can sense his sexual repression and his yearning to be with Nicolas without it being so apparent as to make him fall into a traditional homosexual male mould.

To the immediate opposite of Francis, we see Nicolas, the object of desire and the reason for hostility among friends. My main issue with Nicolas as a character is that he’s too ambiguous and as an audience member it’s hard to relate with him in any way. He has no traditional characteristics of either sexual orientation but is fluid between both. Whilst the ambiguity allows the audience to create their own individual opinion on Nicolas, it also means the audience has nothing to latch on to as a character, making him ultimately bland and unappealing. However, his sexually fluid natures does challenge some social preconception of homosexuality and heterosexuality which makes this as a film about homosexual relationships slightly more mature than some previous attempts.

The final member of the menage a’ trios, Marie is perhaps the frustrating of all, she almost embodies the true meaning of female jealousy. Personally I found her emotional reactions were never truly justified, in one particularly memorable sequence the sheer idea of Francis and Nicolas walking through the woods together drives her into an almost violent, malicious frenzy. Perhaps Marie is portrayed in such a manner as an attempt for Dolan to add an extra layer of melodrama to an already emotionally intense narrative and accidentally ends up satirizing itself.

With all that in mind, HEARTBEATS is ineffably beautiful. The film is so beautifully framed, shot and directed you can clearly tell that Dolan has not only taken inspiration from other directors, but subverted it into his own style. To put it simply, Dolan is wise beyond his years. It’s incredibly frustrating to try and explain how beautiful this film really is, it’s something, without being cliche you must see to really admire. I could try explaining it to you for hours but until you sit down and immerse yourself in it, it would be useless.

Whilst it may feel as if I’ve absolutely slated the film in most aspects, I would feel that this isn’t the case. As mentioned at the start it took me a while to figure out what I didn’t like about this film and that’s just a testimony to how seemingly flawless it is. Each individual part is stomach churningly beautiful and it’s an absolute shame it all doesn’t fit together quite as nicely as Dolan would have envisaged. Although this may seem a potentially odd comparison, I find the similarities between this and recent Hollywood disaster SUCKER PUNCH quite remarkable. Both films aren’t the piece of genius their directors had hoped they would be, but both show an enormous amount of potential from directors and show the audiences that these are directors that are a force to be reckoned with. Here’s hoping Dolan’s future work will blossom into something slightly fuller.

I’m choosing consciously not to give HEARTBEATS a rating out 5. I feel if I gave it too low a score and criticized it I wouldn’t be giving the art direction the praise it deserves and if I gave it too high a score I’d be ignoring the fundamental problems with this film. But if anything in this review even remotely interests you or makes you curious about seeing the film then go and see it.

15 Certificate

Review by LiveWire Young Film Critic, Jay Crosbie (May ’11)

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