Published Sep 21, 2013Xavier Dolan, a director that turned heads with Heartbeats and Laurence Anyways, establishing himself as a wunderkind of Québécois cinema, boldly breaks away from themes of impossible love to advance into genre territory with his fourth feature film, Tom at the Farm.
Based on the Michel Marc Bouchard play of the same name, this highly complex tale opens with a hand scratching out a confessional eulogy on to a paper towel, immediately thrusting viewers into a place of sorrow and pity. This captivating moment cuts to a vivid aerial shot of a desolate road traversing the countryside with the titular Tom (Dolan) leaving Montreal to head to rural Québec to attend the funeral of his lover, Guillaume.
Guillaume's mother Agathe (Lise Roy) insists he spend the night, even requesting that he speak at the funeral the following day. Through an exceedingly awkward verbal exchange, it becomes quickly apparent that Agathe is unaware of Tom's relationship to her dead son. In fact, it's obvious she had no prior knowledge of Tom whatsoever. Moreover, while sleeping in his dead lover's childhood bed, Tom is assaulted by Guillaume's brother, Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), who demands he leave and not reveal to Agathe that her son was a homosexual.
Rather than run, Tom makes the decision to stay at the farm, which leads him to further abuses by the hulking Francis. That there's more deception and secrecy looming in the shadows of this family's past is implicit, making Tom's inability to escape, falling deeper into the unspoken background life of a lover he didn't know as well as he thought he did, one of psychological complexity and revelation.
Dolan's style here is to never quite allow the audience to understand the characters' motivations fully, yet, through his constant use of close-up shots and candid angles; the story unfolds through gradual reveals and fractures, eventually presenting a bigger picture.
Much as Tom suffers from a Stockholm Syndrome of sorts while adapting to this rural lifestyle and associated antiquated ideology, there's a simultaneous sense of repulsion and fascination that stems from the ever-shifting power dynamics on the farm. Just as none of the characters ever seem to know the full story, the audience is similarly left in the dark to ruminate in and interpret the inescapable atmosphere of fear and oppression that Dolan generates.
Looking beyond the story itself, Dolan's vision is easily the strongest asset of the film. His compositions paired with the beautiful, predominantly sinister cinematography from André Turpin (Incendies) are beguiling, creating an atmosphere of looming threat. Similarly, the decision to manipulate aspect ratio during heightened emotional sequences of escalating conflict, limiting our perspective to the intimate, forces engagement with Tom's victimization and emotional sense of isolation, reiterating the psychological component of this examination of homophobia.
Tom at the Farm encapsulates the notion that people aren't necessarily horrifying for the things they've done in the past but for what they're capable of doing. Moreover, it's a fresh, notwithstanding alarming, look at the daily threats homosexuals face in rural locales, revealing Dolan as an emerging, significant voice in Canadian cinema.