Feb 192019

A boy named Jared is the son of a pastor and doesn’t seem as into his high school sweetheart as she is into him. He also has a tendency to look a second too long at other boys. At university, he is raped by a friend, and his assailant, afraid Jared will speak out about what has happened to him, tells Jared’s parents he’s gay. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Jared uses this moment to admit that he might be and agrees to go to a conversion camp. There everything is obviously terrible and abusive and Jared seems to see this and to reject the whole idea of conversion pretty quickly despite some early talk about wanting to “change.” Eventually he tells his mother he wants to leave the camp, that he is who he is, and the mother takes him away and works to convince his father to accept him as he is. The boy then moves to New York, finds love, and writes the memoir that becomes the basis of the movie.

I found this movie to be devastating but not, I think, because of the movie. It’s the subject and the bald presentation of the religious world view that makes conversion camps possible that got to me. The people in this film really are living in a different world, and it is a world where a rapist can catch his victim and bind him into silence by confessing his sin and asking for forgiveness in the moments following the assault. It’s a sick world in which religious delusions distort everything and it’s a world tied to particular places, especially the South. (In the film, Arkansas.) I’ve been inside this world, and I’m not convinced there’s any way to show the people living there that what they see and believe isn’t real or good. Watching the film, knowing what I was seeing was true was devastating.

The film itself though—the dramatic narrative performed on my screen—had a point of view problem that manifested as a third act problem and it’s hard for me to see a way around these. Jared’s story has very little drama. He’s oddly untouched throughout. He embraces a gay identity as he enters the camp and leaves because the camp wants to change that identity. The film has to show the camp and what happens there because without those images there’s no reason for the film really, but there is no drama in those scenes, only horror because the boy isn’t there to struggle. He observes. He witnesses. Like the film, like the viewer, he knows what he is seeing is wrong and that the people around him are misguided. The only question is how long he’ll put up with it.

To the extent the film generates drama it involves the mother and to a lesser extent the father, both of whom must confront the consequences of their beliefs and both of whom must change in the final act for the film to come to a proper end. They do change. Yet because the film focuses on the boy, their change happens off screen and out-of-sight. The problem this causes is captured nicely by the film’s trailer. The film clearly is being marketed as a dramatic (if saccharine) social issue film, but in order to generate sellable drama, the trailer has to rely on footage of the parents drawn almost exclusively from the final moments of the film. Again, I don’t see how the film gets around this without jettisoning its source, and ultimately, as flat as the film is, the horror of what it does show is enough to make it powerful. So ultimately, the film is what it is, dramatic problems and all, and what it is isn’t terrible.

Gloomy and bland as everything else is, there are two visually beautiful moments in the film. These are:

  1. Jared standing in front of a photograph of a male model—it’s an ad at a bus stop—and he reaches out and places his hand on the man’s face, then steps back, and, angry, throws a rock shattering the glass; and
  2. Jared staying over at a ridiculously gorgeous young artist’s ridiculously gorgeous apartment, but doing nothing except chastely staring into each other’s eyes in bed together.

The film knows these are pinnacle moments of beauty and sets them off as such in the narrative. The marketers do as well: both are given pride of place in the trailer.

For someone watching from Quebec, the film had one additional loop of interest. Let’s call it the “Xavier Vortex.”

First, cinematic wünderkid and world-class sex-pot, Xavier Dolan plays a deeply fucked up resident of the conversion camp who is always there to say something creepy and damaged to Jared. Second, the artist Jared spends the night with—named Xavier, but not Dolan—is played by Montreal actor Théodore Pellerin.

So the quebecois invasion of Hollywood continues apace…

Oct 162014


Xavier Dolan’s new film is formally daring, beautiful and moving. It’s Stella Dallas with a son rather than a daughter and is easily Dolan’s best film to date. Beyond that, I won’t say much. It’s better to just post the trailer.


Jun 162014

tom a la fermeXavier Dolan‘s first stab at a popular genre is a domestic thriller with gestures (often musical) toward Hitchcock. The Beav and I saw it  a few weeks before Dolan’s latest film won the jury prize at Cannes.

Tom à la ferme moves away from the art-house, festival films he’s made before — J’ai tué ma méreLes Amours imaginaires, and Laurence Anyways — and is based on someone else’s work, so in many ways this is Dolan’s biggest experiment to date. It is also, to my eye, his least successful film. It doesn’t quite manage to “inhabit” the genre. And genre is a merciless thing.

Yet, there’s good stuff here. I liked the odd too-long scene in the bar when Dolan plays against his father and thought that the final chase through the woods hit the note of menace and sadness and frustration perfectly.

So I’m sticking to my guns: Dolan remains the most interesting filmmaker working in Quebec.

Jul 082012

Laurence Anyways

This movie accomplishes more than any movie from Québec in the past year. And it attempts even more. The failed attempts are what people are complaining about, but that’s a bad critical strategy.

So what are the things I take away from this first viewing?

  • Dolan is working through his heritage. This is not a weakness. It is necessary. Weak artists avoid this out of fear of losing the struggle. (Bloom is right about this.) Fellini is a major presence here and Dolan captures and detournes him in the most mysterious and most expansive sections of the film. With these few moments he suggests another world from the one we see directly. Because Laurence lives (at least in part) in this world, the scenes expand, deepen and ground his character. As a result, the film can remain with Laurence inside the fairly constrained terms of its narrative without risking shrinking him down or limiting him because from within the film we see that he has an “outside”. Laurence can transform yet remain trapped and unchanged, and both parts of his character are convincing and moving.
  • Dolan works as a Quebec filmmaker. He has not dashed off and taken up his career in France or the United States. Which means he’s not cut off from his sources. (It also protects him from his heritage.) His films are set in recognizable, Montreal locations that add to the scenes rather than serving as backdrops. (Yet they don’t operate as the locations of a “regional” filmmaker either.) This film leaves Montreal for Quebec not some other world. It goes deeper rather than elsewhere.
  • This film is queer in the strictest sense of the term, yet it is also contemporary. It feels completely different from ninties, political cinema without being a repudiation of it. It is queer, political, aggressive, destablizing and completely fresh. I haven’t seen an on-screen sexuality this interesting in years. Not least because this sexuality is non-identity and non-identity politics. Very exciting, very queer.
  • There are more kinds of beauty than we imagine. Being shown new beauty is extraordinary.

Overall, I think this is Dolan’s most ambitious and best movie so far. I continue to be fascinated.

Here’s the trailer. Here’s the website.

Oct 092011

Coteau RougeI don’t know André Forcier’s earlier work, but I’ve seen his last three films. Along with Xavier Dolan’s two films, I think they are among the most interesting to come out of Québec in the last seven or eight years.

This film isn’t polished and works in an anti-nostalgic mode which makes it stand out from films like C.R.A.Z.Y. et al. It is absurd, non-psychological and looks closely at an unvarnished life populated with types of characters and of stories. It is ironic without being cynical or misanthropic. Instead, the irony cycles around toward the mythic. Here, the lawn mowers and grass, the sheets hanging outside, the silly schemes to build condos and to fake paternity, and the maternity that proves sufficient, rich while remaining oddly, terribly human, together these and all the rest press into the terrain of myth, suggesting a new story about who we are and why we’re here.

Films don’t reach for so much today. They come with pre-fab questions and we watch them with pre-fab answers looking for confirmation. They depend upon gestures or styles or twists. and indicate they are serious by being unpleasant or “difficult.” Coteau Rouge is different: short, simply shot and simply edited. It moves along at a good clip. It does what it does so economically and enjoyably that it would take no effort on our part at all to take the film as a bit piece too silly for television. Oops. Pause, rewind.

It would take no effort at all–none–to miss the fact that something bigger is going on.

Long live the pariah.