Heartbeats (the French name is Les Amours Imaginares – why they didn’t just translate the title I have no idea) is Xavier Dolan’s second feature film. The French Canadian Dolan is just 21 years old and as a filmmaker he’s decadess ahead of the game.

Heartbeats is the story of a post-adolescent love triangle (a la Jules et Jim). Two friends, James Dean handsome Francis (played by Dolan himself) and the vampy vintage-chic Marie both lock eyes on and pursue Nicholas, the stunning boy who looks like Michaelangelo’s David. The friends become bitter rivals, each competing desperately for the beautiful boy’s affections. In between these narrative elements are faux-interviews with ancillary characters about their experiences in love.

Frankly, the preceeding paragraph is almost meaningless because the narrative and the faux-documentary vingettes are the weakest part of the film. Writer/Director Dolan is a very immature storyteller. The chararcters are fairly flat and the situations he puts them in invite viewers to laugh at their struggles and naievete rather than sympathize. The characters are all beautiful to look at but they never become more than wonderful mannequins upon which to display hip designer and vintage clothes and always perfectly styled $100 haircuts.

One hopes that Dolan’s talent for narrative develops more because he has a singular cinematic eye and already has an experts instict for composing and editing indellible “cinematic moments.” Dolan is the sweetest fruit borne from the tree of Quentin Tarrantino (and I don’t say that only because of his use of a French pop/ye-ye cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang” – a tune used quite well in the Kill Bill movies). Dolan, like Tarrantino, achieves his most transcendent moments by incorporating music (French pop, The Knife and Fevery Ray) and stylized imagery. What Tarrantino has done for things like absurd brutality (the ear slicing scene in Reservoir dogs) Dolan does for the hopeful seductiveness of primping before a date (evoking yet somehow also outdoing the “Cat People” sequence in Inglorious Basterds)or the libidinal excitement of being young and walking into a dance party anxiously hoping to bed your new crush. The extensive use of super slo-mo (usually a pet peeve of mine) can be forgiven – the awe caused by the combination of music, lighting, costuming and production design of these music video-influenced sequences are anything but cliche.

Dolan is an outrageously promising talent. I’m excited to eventually be able to see his first feature (2009’s I Killed my Mother). I just hope he’s able tol grow up. Heartbeats is too heavy in stealing from it’s influences (the previously mentioned Tarrantino and Truffaut but also early Godard and Gus Van Sant and Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love) and too light on substance. I hope he learns how to create characters that the audience can do more than lust after and laugh at. But he is, after all, a very young man and, really, who can blame a 21 year old for being shallow and obsessed with beauty? He has the all the potential to mature like other celluloid wunderkinds Scorsese, Welles or PT Anderson and if he does I’ll be there in the cinema loving it at every step.

Incidentally I’m guessing we can look forward to seeing Dolan’s face pop up in Hollywood and Indie-wood very soon – he’s quite a fetching young man with a great head of hair and has some quality acting chops.

Heartbeats is playing through the end of this week at the Kendall Square Cinema here in Cambridge and is in limited release elsewhere

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One Comment on “Heartbeats”

  1. Jeff Says:

    Upon reflection, I think the biggest reason I like Dolan is b/c he’s one of the few early 20-something filmmakers whose work seems to care not a lick for “Mumblecore” – a movement/style that has gone from new and refreshing to dull and lazy over the last five years. It’s good to see a young person who is the filmmaking equivalent of Suede’s Brett Anderson (the unapologetic early 90s rock star) to Andrew Bujalski’s Kurt Cobain (the iconic early 90s anti-rock star.)

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