Thursday, July 15, 2010

Je t’aime…

Les amours imaginaires (Xavier Dolan, 2010)
*** (A Must-See)

Les amours imaginaries is the story about friendships and relationships with special attention given to their accompanying neurosis. There are two twenty-something-year-old friends Francis (Xavier Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri) who befriend and fall for a recent out-of-towner Nicolas (Niels Schneider). All three of the leads are good-looking and they are filmed beautifully. There is a balance between raw sexual energy and nervous camaraderie as the three go from casually watching television to pinning one another down during games of hide-and-go-seek.

University Years
As J'ai tué ma mère deals with adolescence, Les amours imaginaries focus more on emerging adulthood within the university years in Montreal. The Montreal setting seems apt as the city boast McGill (the number one spot in Maclean’s Canadian university overview), Concordia, and the Montreal university. These characters are in the stage of their lives where they are being introduced to new ideas and new experiences. Everyone seems to be basking in culture and style. Francis and Marie seem to have an inextinguishable desire to befriend and win over Nicolas. The more they hang out with him, the more interesting his worldview appears, and the more they would like to go out with him. They all go out to cool places like the theater, restaurants, parties, and to a cottage.

The college party scenes are enough to make you want to take a road trip to the Montreal. They are full of exciting people drinking and listening to music that would make you dance like the Talking Heads, Bjork and House of Pain. These get-togethers are not just hedonistic escapades but the setting where friendships are tested. At one of the parties there is an impressive pictorial interlude of a strobe light going off against close-ups of the faces of the three friends. It is an impressive concentration of form. The shifts from darkness and light creates a delirium of images that would even put a smile on the faces of the Double Negative Film Collective guys.

Difference to his previous film
Les amours imaginaries begins with a non-narrative interview with other Montreal young adults discussing unrequited love and their sexual orientation. They are filmed with interspaced back and forth zooming. These interviews are elliptically placed within the film similarly to the b/w footage of Hubert venting in J'ai tué ma mère. Though Les amours imaginaries is supposedly a remake of François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim (1962) the only similarities within his screenplay is the initial love-triangle. Though Truffaut still echoes through these non-narrative interviews but more along the lines of Tirez sur le pianiste (1960). At the beginning of it Truffaut takes a break from the story of Charlie/Edouard and his troubles with some thugs for him to have a stroll and lengthy discussion with a stranger about love. Dolan’s narrative breaks do the same thing as they allow you to take a step back and breathe while the interviews thematically connect with the story.

Where J'ai tué ma mère deals with a debilitating angst, Les amours imaginaries deals with an ingenuous neurosis. Francis and Marie consistently find themselves in situations that they wish they could avoid but are quintessential of growing up. The awkward moments are the kind of which you would clutch your first and grind your teeth as you put on a fake smile, as there are no properly defined behaviors to deal with them. The way they would like encounters to unfold and how they do are significantly different. Francis runs into Nicolas by chance outside of a coffee shop. Wanting to share his enthusiasm with him he gives him a present before Nicolas goes off back to what he was doing, leaving Francis high and dry. Xavier expression communicates both the enthusiasm and anxieties and disappointment of the encounter. One of the funnier scenes involves Francis masturbating to Nicolas briefs and shirt. It is relevant here to bring up Alain Badiou’s treatise on love Éloge de L’amour. In it he argues that love is the counter-point to self-interest pursuits and then he use that base to express his faith in humanity. As much as each character pushes one another away, by the end, the motivating desire to like, to aime, reflects the humanity throughout the film.

One of the films attractions is the attractiveness of the actors. They all look cool. Fashion is another subject of the film as even the actor’s garments are un-self-consciously addressed as Marie and Francis are seen shopping together at both vintage stores and haute couture boutiques, most likely one of the ones that line St. Laurent Street. This leads to their own images becoming one of their fixations as they are frequently seen looking at themselves in the mirror and windows reflections. They are a true sign of Montreal chic with sharp looking sweaters and jackets. The viewer’s voyeuristic gaze of the beautiful people is emphasized with the slow-motion walking sequences accompanying by the Italian version of Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang. These scenes are the visual sensationalist equivalents of the double take or the upward glance during people watching.

His most obvious influence is the Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. It is no surprise then that his next film Lawrence Anyways is a remake of Bad Education that will be staring Louis Garrel. The Almodovarian touches include melodrama and seductive filming. The love triangle takes grand turns and the filming slows down and composes images geometrically with lush colors. There is also a shared interest in Hollywood actors incorporating references to Audrey Heburns and James Dean. Women also play an important role in the young Dolan’s film as Marie is portrayed as emotionally complex. Her affinity towards Nicolas allows her to express joy, boredom, self-deception, and reflection; all the while she is sleeping with another man. Xavier Dolan as a director knows when to shoot her profile and when to caress her body within the frame. Another interesting technique, also found in the films of James Grey, is the usage of close-up as transition shots. This is an interesting technique even though sometimes he uses it to the detriment of long scenes.

Canadian Cinema (Summer 2010)
Les amours imaginaries had its premiere at Un Certain Regard at Cannes where Xavier Dolan picked up the Prix de la Jeunesse for the second year in a row. From talking to film enthusiast from around the world, I have come to realize that other then the major auteurs who get a wide film distribution, the only other outlets to see Canadian cinema are at the international film festivals and the New York film critics also highlight MoMA’s Canadian Front series, which has been going on for six years now. Other then that representation of Canadian culture in film is relatively marginalized within an international setting. To better contextualize Les amours imaginaries within Canadian cinema and to better understand the countries diverse narratives, here is a list of English-language films, French-language films and NFB documentaries that were released and projected so far during the summer of 2010, in Ottawa and Hull. The English-language fiction films that emerged this year are Bruce McDonald’s This Movie Is Broken, Vincenzo Natali’s Splice and Reginald Harkema’s Leslie, My Name Is Evil. French-language films that came out include Sylvain Archambault‘s Piché: entre ciel et terre and Yves Pelletier‘s Le Baiser du Barbu. While the NFB financed documentaries include Carmen Garcia and German Gutierrez’s The Coca-Cola Case, Garry Beitel’s The Socalled Movie and Gariné Torossian’s Stone Time Touch, which finally got its Ottawa premiere with and accompanying monograph by the CFI. Alongside the TIFF Canadian Top Ten and the Governor General's Awards in Visual Arts and Media Arts, these films showcase a prolific film industry whose depth and breath of the output can best be enjoyed by its own residents.

Establishing World Filmmaker
I think André Loiselle thoughts on Denys Arcand in his monograph on Le déclin de l'empire américain and Les invasions barbares (University of Toronto Press; 2006) are relevant in discussing the work of Xavier Dolan. Mr. Loiselle writes “In the process of depicting a despondent Quebec culture crumbling under the weight of its misguided nationalist aspirations, Arcand always paradoxically reaffirms the Quebecois’s greatest asset: The power of imagination to create compelling art out of the humdrum reality of everyday life.” (pg. 159). Xavier Dolan, like Denys Arcand, takes a slice of everyday life and uses it as a base to excite and compel. Where the nationalistic contexts of Arcand lead to a deeply politicized work, for Dolan it is the ever-increasing global interconnectivity that is present for the world within his films and outwards.

Though the story takes place in Montreal it could easily have been anywhere else in North America. The setting implies a sort cultural interconnectivity and relativity. There are references to St. Catherine Street just as there are references to going abroad to China, Francis is seen reading about on Bauhaus and in the background at a party there is van Gogh’s Sunflowers. These objects are part the youth sharing of a global culture. With Les amours imaginaries Xavier Dolan not only made an entertaining picture but another personal movie. Anne Dorval (The mother in J'ai tué ma mère) has a cameo as Nicolas mother, Xavier again cast himself in the lead and the characters, setting and mood are definitely the ones of its creator. In the traditions of ambitious Quebecois filmmakers like Michel Brault, Gilles Carles, Denys Arcand, and Jean-Marc Vallée; Xavier Dolan has been passed the baton onwards for the 21st century.-David Davidson

(Ciné-Starz, Les Promenades, 1100 Boulevard Maloney Ouest, Gatineau, QC)

No comments: