Movie Reviews

“Tom at the Farm” Adds to the Mystique of the Prolific Xavier Dolan

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Director: Xavier Dolan
Writers: Xavier Dolan, Michel Marc Bouchard (play and adaptation)
Starring: Xavier Dolan, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Lisa Roy

 

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Synopsis: A grieving man meets his lover’s family, who were not aware of their son’s sexual orientation.

 

Xavier Dolan adapted a play for his sixth feature film. I’m guessing the reason why is to lighten his load of work. Though Dolan’s Tom at the Farm is successful as a film, it’s lousy as an adaptation. I haven’t seen the play, but I’m guessing, (and hoping for the sake of playwright Michel Marc Bouchard), it isn’t as stagnant as Dolan’s film but what makes Tom at the Farm a success is everything the medium poses to drown out the narrative failures with the power of craft.

 

A young man, Tom (played by Dolan himself), is driving to visit the family of his deceased lover, Guy, on a farm in the French-Canadian countryside. Guy’s mother, Agathe (Lisa Roy), doesn’t know Guy was gay, and his brother, Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) aims to keep it that way. Much of Tom at the Farm teeters between Francis threatening to beat Tom up and actually beating him up, always under the guise of keeping Guy’s secret secure. He goes so far as to hold Tom prisoner on the farm and Tom, ever the minx, falls for Francis’ unique seductive powers. There’s a little Stockholm syndrome thing going on in Tom at the Farm, as well as an allegory for what it means to be gay in society today. There may be an allegory for domestic abuse in there, too, but I, like Tom, couldn’t focus on anything but Francis’ raw animal magnetism.

 

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Tom at the Farm fits strangely in the thriller genre–it is perpetually building suspense without a sense of arch. Sometimes this works (Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master is a prime example of a masterpiece of plateaued narrative), but Tom at the Farm doesn’t quite have the originality to pull it off. Francis is like a hyper masculine Norman Bates, and Agathe might as well be a corpse like Mrs. Bates. Lisa Roy looks wonderfully creaky and shell-shocked as Agathe, but the character is pure plot device. She exists for Francis’ pathos, his reason to stay closeted (which he more than hints at when he tells Tom that there’s a reason he’s still single and living with his mom), an obsession of his love and resentment. Francis–played with a bully-like intensity by Pierre-Yves Cardinal–a stage actor who plays the same role in the stage production–is the lynch pin of the drama, the majority of the film’s complexity revolving around him. The best Tom can do is mimic Jimmy Stewart’s character from Vertigo. Francis’ Guyish appeal—he looks, smells, speaks, even dances like him—keeps Tom milking the cows. Dolan gives Tom a wide-eyed courage that is, at times, precious, but otherwise feverish. He seems genuinely torn between seduction and fear.

 

Tom at the Farm is doughy in the middle. The title is unfortunately accurate in its vagueness. Not much of this thriller is thrilling. Despite the “razor-sharp” October corn fields, a claustrophobic locale (most of the film is shot on the farm), and a surprising visitor, it gets awful desperate for action–Tom’s goofy relationship with a baby calf is like cinematic gibberish. Despite it’s Hitchockian character types, this is not the tight, swift, energetic thriller uncle Alfred churned out.

 

But here is a case of style as substance rather than “style over substance”. Cinematographer André Turpin should take a bow for his wide array of bird’s eye views, elegant angles, and pulsating close ups. Music man Gabriel Yared creates a haunting score of string instruments, and makes ample use of the sound of wind, creaking, and mooing normal to a farm. The awkward suspense of Tom and Francis partaking in an impromptu tango is made hypnotic and striking by the golden glow of light pouring through the windows and washing over them.

 

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Tom at the Farm reminded me of Josephine Decker’s 2014 Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, Michael Mann’s 2006 Miami Vice, and Jean Renoir’s 1932 La Nuit du Carrefour. These moody movies are mighty examples of the subtle artfulness of cinema–captivating in a way that makes you see everything but what is “happening.” These films are memorable for primal reasons. What we see is hypnotizing outside of its context. What Tom at the Farm lacks as a narrative, it makes up for in artistic vision.

 

I Give “Tom at the Farm a 6.5 out of 10

  • TMB rates Tom at the Farm - 6.5/10
    6.5/10
Overall
6.5/10
6.5/10
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