Tom at the Farm (2013, Xavier Dolan)

Psychodrama following young Tom (Dolan), whose boyfriend has just died, visiting the departed’s mother and brother for the funeral. Brother Francis threatens Tom to shut up about his late brother’s sexuality around their mother Agathe, first insists Tom leave and then prevents Tom from leaving… meanwhile Tom alternates between wanting to flee and to stay, while bonding with Agathe and getting into a twisted hate/need relationship with Francis.

Cannes Month is all about becoming familiar with the fest-regular directors whose work I’ve never seen before, so now that Dolan has won Cannes prizes with five of his six features, and starred in the best Cannes GIF of the year, he’s top of the list, despite my favorite critics’ aversion to his movies. I chose maximalist Dolan’s most pared-down work, also his only movie that didn’t go to Cannes (it opened in Venice instead, winning a critics prize).

In the second half, as part of Tom’s flip-flopping allegiances, he recruits coworker Sarah (Evelyne Brochu of Orphan Black), who played the dead lover’s girlfriend in photographs sent to the family, to join him at the farm. Maybe the invitation is meant to cheer up the mother, though Tom forget to tell coworker-Sarah details about girlfriend-Sarah’s fictional life, or maybe to rescue Tom, though once she arrives he informs her he’s staying. Just after her visit, Tom finally gets spooked enough by Francis’s past behavior to make his escape. Dolan makes all this indecision and ambiguity work for the movie, maintaining tension by never giving away exactly what the characters are thinking. Actors are shot largely in closeup, but outside dialogue scenes there’s enough shot variety that it doesn’t become Blue Is The Warmest Color-oppressive.

Full cast:

D. Ehrlich: “If Tom at the Farm is occasionally impenetrable as a drama, it’s seldom less than gripping as an exercise in suspense.”

A. Muredda in Cinema Scope disagrees:

One detects Dolan’s yearnings to transcend his wunderkind origins in the thematic heaviness of the push-pull almost-romance between Tom and his abuser, the kind of charged dynamic that lends itself to critical think pieces on the twin horrors of homophobia and conformism. This pretense to seriousness aside, Tom à la ferme feels like a mild regression: too artfully manicured to work entirely as a thriller, and not florid enough to be a pure melodrama.

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