Tom at the Farm (London Film Festival 2013)
The end credits for Tom at the Farm list Xavier Dolan as more than director and lead actor; his roles include editor and costume designer. Yet, for the first time, he’s only a co-writer, as the melancholic drama’s roots lie in a Michel Marc Bouchard play. That might explain the weird sensation that Tom at the Farm can be dominated by Dolan’s presence without feeling like a Dolan film – the great Dolan paradox, you might say. (I’m guessing you won’t.)
The 24-year-old filmmaker has possibly outgrown the erratic style that characterised I Killed My Mother and Heartbeats, as Tom at the Farm is shot in a comparatively conventional manner. He does, however, stay consistent with narrative themes: the longevity of heartbreak, and society’s treatment (or denial) of homosexuality.
Tom (Dolan), as the title mentions, visits a farm for the funeral of former boyfriend Guillaume. Tom then discovers Guillaume kept their relationship a secret from his family, who express their anger that his alleged girlfriend doesn’t turn up – not even to carry flowers. To the screenplay’s credit, the plot doesn’t spiral out in the expected direction, instead setting up a cat-and-mouse storyline: Guillaume’s brother, Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), knows too much and attempts to blackmail Tom.
There are still flourishes of Dolan’s eye for beauty, although his newfound composure doesn’t allow a scattergun approach; less visual flair places a magnifying glass on the acting. Yet shooting in a consistent manner doesn’t mean a focused product. When Tom wanders around the farm, I actually saw Dolan pacing worried circles on a film set, wondering how to adapt a script originally written for the stage
By toning down his eccentricities, mediocrity triumphs. I once considered Dolan a hate/love figure, but here the farm is positioned firmly in the middle. If early Dolan is represented by The Knife’s “Heartbeats”, then Tom at the Farm is a passable b-side.
Tom at the Farm is part of the London Film Festival’s “Official Competition” strand. Screening information can be found here.
104 mins approx