For Criterion Consideration: Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats

Of all of this generation’s young filmmaking voices, very few are as youthful (both in aesthetic and actual age) as that of director/writer/actor/man about town Xavier Dolan. With three films already under his belt, including the festival darling Laurence Anyways, the 23-year-old director is considered widely as one of his generation’s most superb young auteurs, taking on the ideas of love, isolation and longing with a stylistic touch so singular, that it’s truly hard to describe. A darling of the indie/arthouse/hipster set, the director has become a truly important name in the world of filmmaking, and at a decidedly young age.

His previous film, the 2010 gem, Heartbeats, is of specific intrigue. Starring Dolan as part of a love trio, the film follows the story of three youths, two close friends and a man they grow to both fall in love with. Francis and Marie are our Jules and Jim here, seemingly long-time friends, who encounter the young and rapturous Nicolas at a dinner party. Despite having their doubts when first running into the curly haired 20-something, the two not only grow to accept him into their circle, but fall in love with him. A moving meditation on love and longing, Heartbeats is a touching bit of style-over-substance that instead of simply being a vehicle for aesthetic expression, in turns become all the more emotionally affecting a story.

At this point the only film from Dolan readily available here in the states (his first film, I Killed My Mother, is available on YouTube, but with Spanish subtitles and his latest still having yet to hit theaters), it is tough to truly say if this is a young auteur working in his own style. However, with such a seemingly assured voice and sensual sense of style, one can’t help but think this is the work of a young, yet starkly mature, filmmaker. The use of slow-motion is breathtaking, allowing the viewer to have as much a sense of sexual attraction and almost purely lusting sense of connection to all involved, and the cinematography gives the film a fly on the wall style that makes the film feel full of truth and heart.

Pretentious, or more so the crime of being more style than substance, is often tossed around with this picture, but the brilliant skill within Dolan’s work here is that his style is deeply instilled within the film’s substance. Inherently a picture about lust and unrequited love, the film always keeps its viewer at sort of an arm’s length, be it through the show-offish slow-motion work or the series of liberally used interviews, much like these young men and women keep themselves from truly expressing themselves to one another. It’s a beautifully crafted feature about beautiful people unsure about love and their relationship to it. It’s shockingly moving.

Performance-wise, the film is solid. Not given a ton to do, the film doesn’t rely heavily on their performances themselves, but instead how each actor reacts or interacts with one another. Dolan and co-star Monia Chokri are great here as the two best friends falling head over heels for the mysterious and seemingly deeper than they previously thought Nicolas, played with a wondrous sense of depth by Niels Schneider. All three elevate the passé premise into something truly great.

While the film does meander a bit, and the pretty-people-talking-about-not-getting-the-other-pretty-person may rub a viewer the wrong way, Heartbeats is as esoteric a filmmaking experiment as we’ve seen from someone of his generation. An IFC release, and one, I mind you, without a Blu-ray here in the states, one couldn’t help but imagine Criterion nabbing the rights to this sometime soon. Could we be seeing a Criterion Collection Blu-ray of the film? Maybe tossing in earlier works from the director in as a supplement? Who knows? But if I can do anything, it’s hope like hell they do, as this is one recent gem that more than rightly deserves the mighty Criterion ‘C.’

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.