Heartbeats (Review)

It is week two of my Xavier Dolan series, having begun last week with his film feature debut, I Killed My Mother.  Despite minor flaws, I was immensely impressed with the young director’s film, eager to move on to his subsequent 2010 feature, Heartbeats. While it is safe to say that Dolan further proves his budding talent in Heartbeats, showing greater versatility as a director, it is disappointing that Dolan’s more heavy-handed, artsy approach ultimately drags the film down.

Much like the opening of Dolan’s debut, Heartbeats begins with a series of personal confessions that set the tone for the film and its themes. The difference here is that instead of a single main character, it is a series of characters who are of little importance to the film’s overall narrative, detailing their past heartbreaks. Then, through a very subtle but effective scene, we are swiftly introduced to close friends Marie (Monia Chokri) and Francis (Xavier Dolan), and the “self-satisfied Adonis” Nicolas (Niels Schneider), for whose affections they will be vying throughout the film.

All of the above is executed with the similar precision and human perceptiveness displayed by Dolan in I Killed My Mother. But then begins the one of the film’s many, many, many slow-motion sequences, which is indicative of Dolan’s overzealous style in many segments of the film. I understand Dolan’s primary intentions, wishing to impart the minutiae of details in the actions and emotions of his characters, which to a degree makes sense in a film about unrequited love. The problem, however, is that it sometimes felt like I was watching an arthouse film directed by Zack Snyder.

Another Snyder-esque issue in Heartbeats lies in its characterisation of the two main characters. While the acting is solid all-round, particularly from Chokri, Marie and Francis don’t always feel as dimensional as I would have liked. It was instead Nicolas who I found to be the most interesting character, as I pieced together his egotistical deceits with what little information is given of his past by his mother (played briefly by the wonderful Anne Dorval), to grant greater perspective on his selfish character, as well as his intentions with Marie and Francis.

This all leaves me with the lingering sense that Dolan’s Heartbeats traded off the strengths and weaknesses I highlighted in I Killed My Mother. Instead of having strong characters with occasionally uneven storytelling, the characters are relatively weak, while the love triangle at the centre of the story is more compellingly sure-handed (if not occasionally predictable).

The overall issue here is not Dolan’s ability as a director or storyteller, but rather that he is artistic to a fault. If the director can muster a work in which he finds a happy medium between the two, then it would be something truly special. I suppose only time will tell, as I review his subsequent film, Laurence Anyways, next week.

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