HEARTBEATS (Les Amours Imaginaires) A
Canada France (95 mi) 2010 d: Xavier Dolan
When they devised Audience Choice Awards, this is the kind of film they must have had in mind, as this is a brilliantly inventive film, hilarious beyond anyone’s expectations, the most enjoyable film seen in ages, infectiously smart, wonderfully acted, devising the most inventive camera movements, original color schemes, and the absolute best use of music of any film seen in years, sensing the urgency, naivety, complexity and depth of passion of the characters. The savagely funny Xavier Dolan writes, directs, edits, provides the art direction, and stars in this comedy of observations, where a host of people speak directly to the camera revealing their own personal insight into relationships, what thrills them about being in a relationship, but also how bummed they are when people don’t meet their expectations, which is shown in that ANNIE HALL (1977) rapid fire style, one closeup face after another. Reminiscent of the colorful and early playful style of Jean-Luc Godard in the early 60’s with Anna Karina, Dolan uses the wacky energy and clever combination of personalities from Truffaut’s delightfully inventive threesome movie, JULES AND JIM (1962), featuring a dazzling display of wit and comic invention. Dolan himself plays Francis, gorgeous, bright, and gay, whose best friend, the acid tongued Marie (Monia Chokri) is straight, but provides a high fashion statement in every shot, always featuring a kaleidoscope of bright colors, while her stylish approach to smoking cigarettes, including the development of an individual philosophy around cigarette smoking, is unparalleled. The two of them fall for the same guy, Nicolas (Niels Schneider), a curly haired blond whose pouty lips and effeminate features seem to swing both ways, so they end up in the same bed together—for awhile, where their love theme seems to be Dalida’s multi-lingual version of “Bang Bang.” Dalida - Bang Bang (Les Amours Imaginaires) - YouTube (2:19). And yes, Dolan loves the use of slo mo and shooting the back of people’s heads.
There hasn’t been a more candy-colored movie since The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les Parapluies de Cher... (1964), which, by the way, was devastatingly sad and did not end up happy. Here the colors really do reflect the internal moods of the characters, which for the most part is youthfully upbeat. The film is constantly exploring the idea of relationships, where various observations cut into the movie at improbable moments, giving the film a feeling of community, as if everyone commenting is somehow personally involved in the making of this film. Rarely are characters ever seen alone, as almost always they’re seen in groups vying for one another’s affections, where Francis and Marie grow a bit jealous when someone else has Nicolas’s undivided attention, and then step over themselves with embarrassingly awkward talk when it becomes their turn, where being foolishly in love is certainly demonstrated repeatedly with this threesome, especially as the two friends are in competition with one another, each attempting to have him all to themselves. Dolan reveals shots from each other’s imagination, perspectives that show substantially different versions of how they envision Nicolas in love. There’s a hilarious dance sequence where Nicolas is dancing at a party with his mother, Anne Dorval in a marvelously brief appearance, a professional dancer who shows up the next morning with her son’s monthly stipend, where she has occasion to chat with Francis instead, calling him a gorgeously attractive “twinkie,” recalling how she used to bring her young son to dance sessions and all the other dancers would fall over themselves to swarm him with kisses and adoring affection, so affection is something that he’s used to. Despite their best efforts, which includes a trip to the country where Nicolas describes for Francis the proper technique of eating a roasted marshmallow, neither one seems capable of holding his attention for long.
When they inevitably both get dumped, Nicolas is as cold and cruel as they get, where the theme music changes to Fever Ray’s hauntingly atmospheric “Keep the Streets Empty for Me” Les Amours Imaginaires - YouTube (3:26, unsubtitled). The color sequences grow darker and more somber and the mood of introspection is more prevalent. Dolan uses slow motion sequences, where especially effective is a pulsating strobe light segment that shows faces in closeup, including a subtle changing look of the eyes, a technique that was memorable in FLASHDANCE (1983) but may have had its roots in Clouzot's ill-fated yet dizzily experimental L'ENFER (1964), which was never completed. Much of the film’s appeal is the way the actors relish their roles, especially Monia Chokri who seems to wrap her tongue around some of the dialogue, exuding a witty sarcasm through invented pronunciations. She’s incredibly smart, but she also sticks her foot in her mouth when she gets nervous. Chokri and Dolan are two of the more delightful characters seen onscreen in awhile, and the screenplay gives them a full range of expression while Dolan behind the camera seems to be experimenting with a kind of ecstatic, uninhibited glee. The stylishly impressionistic mood of comic originality continues unabated throughout the entire film, where the energy never sags, and where the finale is drop dead hilarious. While Dolan’s initial film is more personal and is perhaps the more audaciously accomplished effort, rarer still is one lured into an intelligently written comedy that offers both funny and heartbreakingly meaningful drama, from the superficiality of hip clubs to the despair of self-deception, where this is a free-spirited take on the absence and exuberance of love that is given enormous energy and appeal from both the writer and the performers. While Dolan will appeal primarily to the gay community, because his wit and humor reflect themes of gay tolerance and love, but it should be noted that Dolan may be the only filmmaker on the planet who can make a straight person identify with an appreciation for being gay, and not in any tragic sense, like MILK (2008) or BOYS DON’T CRY (1999), but in the euphoric brilliance of his art.