We join Tom (Xavier Dolan) as he visits the farmhouse of his now-deceased boyfriend Guillaume in rural Quebec. After an initially shocking and awkward introduction with Guillaume’s mother, Agathe (Lise Roy), Tom is welcomed into the household, albeit with a specific veil of secrecy: Guillaume’s brother, Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), has ensured that Agathe holds no suspicions about Guillaume’s sexual orientation, and that Agathe is under the impression Tom is simply a coworker and close friend. Introductions aside, Francis begins a routine of physical and psychological battery on Tom, putting him in a place somewhere between a prisoner and a convert, and in the process opens himself and his past up to the emotionally loaded Tom.
In many ways, Tom at the Farm fits neatly next to all of director (and writer, and actor) Xavier Dolan’s previous feature films. Thematically, the central conflict is the complex link between a mother and her son; this is more obliquely the case here, whereas Mommy or I Killed My Mother lend themselves most directly to this material. Content aside, the film also looks so assuredly Dolan-esque, with the picture a barely-noticeable amount darker than natural light would assume, as though the film were stitched together from a decade’s worth of memories, and the contents of the film are unfolding in hazy, half-remembered retrospect.
But just as the young, prolific director was aiming for, Tom at the Farm is indeed different. While his previous five films can perhaps be genre-cized as “dramas”, this film is more squarely described as a “thriller”, tapping into noir-psychological plot threads and even some erotic undertones. Like fellow Canadian Denis Villeneuve’s 2013 Enemy, Dolan’s film delights in darkness and patience, not afraid to scare you with a leaping body, but also enough of a tease to make you wait for it. Some of the most gratifying and heightened moments of the film feature Tom surveying the farm, half-expecting to see a figure on the horizon (with the audience fully expecting a visitor to surprise us from just out of the frame). Gabriel Yared’s soundtrack, which was almost excluded in the final cut, contributes to a classical, almost throwback atmosphere, reminding us (as well as Tom) that the farm is far away from the urban sprawl of Montreal, his more familiar surroundings.
Conflict comes to The Farm on many levels: Tom attempts to play along with Francis’ game while still keeping his leveled sanity, while Francis is attempting to orchestrate the future of his now-smaller family with exact precision. As a small number of other characters enter the mix, further conflict is introduced faster than context (Francis and his buddies kick someone out of Guillaume’s funeral, and later Tom tries to pick up on some accidental remarks from a doctor regarding Francis and the family). These are carefully written (and adapted from a play) by Dolan and author of the stage version Michel Marc Bouchard, and complement the soundtrack and the misty atmosphere of the outside shots (nature plays a pivotal role during the film’s climax) to keep the tension notched consistently.
Tom at the Farm first screened nearly two years ago at the 2013 Venice Film Festival, and shortly thereafter in the director’s home country at the Toronto International Film Festival. This UICA release is simultaneous with the New York and Los Angeles premiere of the film. Although several of his previous films have crossed Canada’s southern border via VOD (see: arguably Dolan’s best film, Laurence Anyways, on Netflix streaming), it took Tom at the Farm almost two years to garner a stateside distribution despite it being perhaps his most accessible film to date. Two years later, it is worth the wait.
Catch Tom at the Farm at UICA from Aug 14 – 27, 2015, get a complete list of showtimes at uica.org/tom-at-the-farm.
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