Heartbeats Review: Signs Of Life

HEARTBEATS: On General Release Friday 27th May

Audiences who keep up with film festivals, or read unbearably pretentious magazines that are solely sold in Shoreditch and Soho, will more than likely be acquainted with Xavier Dolan, the current darling of French-Canadian cinema who won minor acclaim after his debut J’ai Tué Ma Mere (I Killed My Mother) became a talking point among critics. An actor/director, he is praised both for his fashion magazine approach to cinematography and his retro-chic persona. However, a sizeable majority think he’s just that: a poser of no particular substance.

On the basis of just one film there were those who let hyperbole get the better of them, going so far as to compare Dolan to Godard, Truffaut and Bertolucci, which is sort of like comparing Scarlett Johansson to Marilyn Monroe – they’re leagues apart. Interestingly, he denies having ever seen or heard of the auteurs he is accused of borrowing from, the faint stench of horseshit lingering in the air.

Perhaps, the choice of subject matter did little to distance his work from Truffaut; particularly a love triangle between three carefree twenty-somethings echoing the skeleton plot of Jules & Jim, not to mention the techniques he employs and the subsequent disregard to integrate them into the mise-en-scene (slow motion set to music, minimalist plot, etc).

It is to Dolan’s credit he injects this familiar scenario with some originality, devilishly pitching the characters’ sexualities against one another; Francis (Xavier Dolan) is a beautiful bi-sexual hipster; Mari (Monia Chokri) is straight, also a hipster, and dresses like a “housewife from the fifties”; curly-lockied Nicolas (Niels Schneider), also straight, acts as their Adonis-like object of desire (he is later fast-cut with a strobed image of Michaelangelo’s David with whom he shares an uncanny resemblance).

Competitive and consumed by obsessive love, they fight tooth and nail to win Nicolas’s affection, willing to resort to extreme disloyalty to outdo one another. Occasionally, throughout the film, talking heads suddenly come onto screen, as if being interviewed for a documentary investigating failed romances and unrequited love, mirroring Francis and Mari’s own unsuccessful pursuits.

So, has Dolan’s second effort, Heartbeats, done anything to try and convert his detractors? The answer is a resounding no. Dolan has kept his 1950s quiff, along with his penchant for close ups of his own face and compiling soundtracks that sound like the mixtapes in Top Shop. Coupled with an aesthetic caught somewhere between a Levis and an American Apparel commercial, Dolan’s film skirts dangerously close to being superficial, risking becoming an enormous vanity project for him to prance and preen at leisure across 90 minutes of celluloid. Anyone in doubt should look at the narcissistic promotional posters.

Despite all the negative aspects to Dolan’s filmmaking, Heartbeats is nonetheless entertaining, if too dependent on its pleasing visual style to convey meaning, like a Wes Anderson film minus the acting talent. Maybe a few more years to grow up and Dolan will deliver a richer, finer, more accomplished film but until then he will continue to make friends and just as many enemies.