Festival de ‘Usual Suspects’: Tom at the Farm (2013) de Xavier Dolan

May 18, 2016 § Leave a comment

Finally, my first taste of the Quebecois prodigy. And, in an ironic twist, I have chosen the one film that Xavier Dolan did not premiere at Cannes, but which he instead took to Venice (apparently as a means of protesting the utter tragedy of his third film Laurence Anyways premiering in Un Certain Regard as opposed to main Competition). I mention this in order to lay bare the fact that, prior to seeing this film, my impression of Dolan (collated from various opinions and snippets of hearsay) was that he is privileged and entitled, egocentric and cinematically overheated. Having premiered – at age 20 – his partly self-financed debut I Killed My Mother (2009) at Cannes’ Directors Fortnight, I would imagine that a measure of egotism is a prerequisite. As for his apparent cinematic hubris and emotional candour, Tom at the Farm (an adaptation of a stage play by Michel Marc Bouchard) offers bountiful evidence of both, though, if there is one word which nags at the mind in response to this film, that word is ‘tension.’ Yes, the central narrative is inherently fraught and taut: young Montreal copywriter, Tom (played by Dolan himself), travels to cornfield and cows country to attend his recently deceased ‘friend’ Guillaume’s funeral and to meet his grieving mother (who is unaware of her late son’s sexuality) and his homophobic brute of a brother, Francis (who is menacingly eager to keep his mother in the dark about said sexuality). But the tension lies beyond Tom’s being torn between tact and honesty, as he tries to determine when and how he should reveal his true identity as Guillaume’s lover; a pseudo coming-out to a pseudo mother. From the opening minutes, the fabric of the film is being pulled and tugged, on one end by cool, static restraint, and on the other by a more volcanic, implosive sensibility. Add, to this, the tension that exists between Tom and Francis, and not simply from a city slicker versus rural ruffian standpoint. Tom exhibits an increasing mix of sexual pride and bottled shame, the latter probably a consequence of his being ‘the hidden lover.’ Francis is comprised of a similar mix of contradictions, though his latent attraction to Tom (or men in general) is never explicitly proclaimed by the burly farmer. The result of this psychological mess is a weird hostage situation in which a presumably brief pilgrimage becomes an extended visit, Tom seemingly held captive not only by Francis’ physical antagonism, but by a trio of desires: to come out on Guillaume’s behalf and strike a victory for freedom and tolerance, to indulge in self-loathing at the hands of the supremely self-loathing Francis, and to possibly consummate the prickly attraction that he and Francis share. Obviously, Tom at the Farm is a melange of ideas and something of a cinematic tease, but when Dolan walks out of the movie’s final frame, why does the picture feel like an overreach? It may be related to the nugget of local lore that Tom discovers while drinking at a bar, a story which reveals the depths of Francis’ homophobia and violence if there was in fact any doubt at this particular point in the narrative. This piece of backstory seems to be the antidote for Tom’s hitherto Stockholm Syndrome. Yet, for a film that – for the most part – carefully balances subtlety with unabashed expressive release, this being the impetus for Tom’s escape is not so much convenient as it is superfluous. Either way, it must be said that Tom at the Farm proves Dolan to be the real thing, if ‘the thing’ in question is a filmmaker with a confident command of his art and craft.


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