DVD Review - Heartbeats

Xavier Dolan (left), Niels Schneider &
Monia Chokri in "Heartbeats"
Xavier Dolan follows up his critically acclaimed I Killed My Mother with this film about a young gay man and a young straight woman who both fall in love with the same boy and how that threatens their friendship.

Dolan writes, produces, directs and stars in Heartbeats, which is the English title. Dolan is French-Canadian, and the true title is Les Amours Imaginaires, which translates literally to Imaginary Loves, which is apt for the feelings of this movie's protagonists.

Dolan plays Francis, the young gay man, and, Monia Chokri plays Marie, the young straight woman. The only thing we learn about them is that they're friends. They're probably between the ages of 22-25. Both dress very stylishly and always have well-done hairstyles.

Both meet Nicolas, played by Niels Schneider, at a party. Nicolas is a tall, handsome, medium curly-haired blonde who is interested in seismography for the money and who also has a fascination with literature like the works of Kolt├Ęs, the French playwright, but only as exercise for his brain. Both Francis and Marie have sex with other people, but, when it comes to long-term companionship and love, both want Nicolas.

A bit of rivalry forms between Francis and Marie. The pair vie for Nicolas' affection and attention. Neither can get Nicolas alone for too long without the other showing up, so most of this movie is the three of them in various activities or just hanging out. Each pull on Nicolas as best they can, giving him gifts or fawning over him at every opportunity.

At one point, Marie dresses like Audrey Hepburn and quotes her movies because Nicolas casually mentioned he likes Hepburn. It gets to the point where we see that Marie and Francis are obsessed with Nicolas unhealthily so. We're not given much context or background that would explain why. Outside sexual relations are not explored psychologically. They're depicted more for their sensual value.

Dolan doesn't really want psychological understanding. Maybe because he's too young and inexperienced to understand it himself, as his character in this film is also too young and inexperienced. Instead, he can only go with what he feels. As such, he wants his film's audience merely to feel it too and go with it, or else just follow.

There are a lot of shots in this film of following characters. The camera literally walks behind or alongside trying to keep up with either Francis or Marie. We also get more shots of their profiles or else the backs of their heads. It's not as overboard as Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void, but where Dolan perhaps goes overboard is in the amount of slow motion sequences.

Several sequences involve Francis and Marie getting ready to meet Nicolas, either at a coffee shop or a house party. These sequences are set to music and involve the characters moving most often at half speed. At one instance, the song choice for the tail end of one of those sequences was "Jump Around" by the rap group House of Pain. Repeatedly though, we heard a Spanish version of "Bang Bang" written by Sonny Bono, sung famously by Cher and Nancy Sinatra.

That song was the only bonus of those sequences. I suppose the subtext was to emphasize the ritual and the stock that both characters put into the preparation and build-up to the meeting moments with Nicolas. Yet, after Dolan does it two or three times, it only drags things.

What also dragged was the testimonials that interrupted the narrative. Dolan had random people who were never identified talk as if they were being interviewed for a documentary. These random people offered thoughts, feelings and experiences when it came to love and relationships, often time experiences that didn't end happily ever after.

I was hoping these people would be integrated into the narrative somehow. I was hoping also that these people would be any of the main characters, but it never happened. They remain random interludes and totally unnecessary.

Nevertheless, Xavier Dolan has a great visual sense and truly delivers some gorgeous, if not absolutely beautiful images to the screen. This includes images of himself. Dolan has a very interesting look, gorgeous, but more importantly his performance here is very strong, making powerful and often unique acting choices.

His directing choices, including his use of color and camera placement as well as movement also set the stage for his long, successful career in cinema.

Four Stars out of Five.
Not Rated But Recommended for Mature Audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 40 mins.

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