Friday, March 24th, 2023

Xavier Dolan’s second film: ”Heartbeats“


Les amours imaginaires

Written and Directed by Xavier Dolan

Premiered May 16, 2010, at the Cannes Film Festival
Drama (foreign/Canada)
101 min.


Review by Stephen O. Murray

September 15, 2011.

Going on to Xavier Dolan’s second movie (shot when he was 20, released in 2010), Les amours imaginaires (which means “imaginary lovers,” far more fitting than the title Heartbeats under which it was released in English), I again felt that Dolan was a better actor than a writer but was less sure that he is a better writer than director. There were some dead lines and pretentious lines and shots (especially slow-motion shots in Christopher Doyle-like monochrome of Dolan walking away).

In Heartbeats, Dolan seemed more than a year older than the brat he played in I Killed My Mother. The only stated age is that of his gal-pal, Marie [Monia Chokri]: 25 (Chokri is six years younger than Dolan, btw). Dolan’s character, Francis, seems roughly the same age, though he is a lot more romantic and vulnerable than she. He keeps score on his apartment wall of all the men who tell him “Thanks, but I’m not interested” (in him and/or in a man’s love); the tally is 159 at the start of the movie.

Marie has harder armor (vintage early-1960s clothes and scarlet pumps) and does not seem to be pining for Francis. Through most of the movie they are both pining for a curly-haired “Adonis” named Nicolas [Niels Schneiderin].

Both of them are smitten by the enigmatic Nicolas (Schneiderin has a bigger part here than he had in Killed), who literally comes between them in several chaste sleepovers in which the three actually sleep and, only somewhat less literally, as the old friends compete for the prize whose sexual orientation is a mystery to both of them and who gives no indication of any sexual or romantic interest in either of them. I don’t see what they see in him either physically (I wouldn’t call him an “Adonis”) or as a person (an amiable sphinx onto whom they project personality). He seems much less fun to be around than Jeanne Moreau’s Catherine was in the same structural position at the apex of the triangle in Jules and Jim or even the glum and awkward American apex played by Michael Pitt in The Dreamers.

The frustrated seductions of Nicolas are shown rather than narrated. Francis and Marie probably usually discuss their hopes and disappointments, but not when they center on the same person. Dolan’s cinematic means for telling that story are offset by some talking-head interviews about failed love affairs. (These seem to have existed before collapsing, unlike the delusional (“imaginary”) love affairs with Nico.) I’m not sure whose project they are, and the actors telling them are sympathetic, but WTF are they doing spliced in, interrupting the triangle story?

Especially guided by the French title, the viewer is likely to be way ahead of Francis and Marie in recognizing that both are infatuated with someone who is not in love with (or even mildly sexually interested) either and that their competing for signs of his favor are destroying their long-term friendship with each other.

Dolan intercut the failed romances of Francis and Nicolas and of Marie and Nicolas with retrospective seeming interviews from multiple persons recollecting failed love relationships (I think including the young men who have postcoital bed scenes with Francis and with Marie). These strike me as too precious, and I’ve already mentioned some of the artsy visuals (Dolan credited himself for editing and for both costume and visual “conceptions”; the cinematography credit was to Stéphanie Weber-Biron, who also shot Killed and more recently shot Blackbird).

Seeing Heartbeats immediately after seeing I Killed My Mother, I was more appreciative of (sympathetic toward) Heartbeats than I was when I saw the latter movie before. (I thought Niels Schneider looked familiar, but thought that was either a residue from having just seen him in Killed or from the visual allusions (especially his straw hat) to the Tadzio of Luchino Visconti’s adaptation of Death in Venice.) In the context of a growing oeuvre of Dolan films, I saw it as getting beyond his adolescent point of view (Francis is pouty and vulnerable and narcissistic, too, but again Dolan provided a woman strengths and subjectivities. BTW, Anne Dorval was back, in one scene as Nicolas’s mother talking to Francis, whose masturbation she interrupts.)

Heartbeats has a cathartic (for Marie and Francis) conclusion a year later than their humiliating failed seductions of the seductive cypher Nicolas, that is then undercut by a scene (at the same party) in which both move like moths to a flame to a variant on Nicolas (Louis Garrel, calling Bertolucci’s The Dreamers to mind if the triangle in the preceeding bulk of the movie had not).

At the time Dolan said that he had seen a lot of movies. Three that all but scream out from his movie about a triangle in Montréal are Truffaut’s Jules and Jim, Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, and Wong Kar-Wai’s Chunking Express—the first two as triangle movies, the last for its nocturnal lighting and highly filtered look (supplied by Wong’s usual cinematographer, Christopher Doyle) and by the sad failure of connection mood.

Perhaps it is the characters rather than the film-maker who is pretentious, but they are all young, and though I was less than enthralled by the movie, Dolan did a lot on a tiny budget ($350K, mostly left from commercials he appeared in between the ages of 4 and 9) and definitely deserves the descriptor “promising.”

Heartbeats received the Regards Jeunes Prize at Cannes, as I Killed My Mother had the year before.

©Stephen O. Murray, 15 September 2011

About The Author

Stephen O. Murray grew up in rural southern Minnesota, earned a B.A. from James Madison College (within Michigan State University), an M.A. from the University of Arizona, a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto (both in sociology), and was a postdoctoral fellow at Berkeley (in anthropology). He is the author of American Gay, Homosexualities, etc. and lives in San Francisco.