I find it interesting to compare this film, by 26-year old French-Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan, who co-wrote, directed and starred in it, with The Gift, which I reviewed last week. The Gift is a clever connect-the-dots psychological thriller about a revenge scheme for a past crime. The characters react to events in simple, unambiguous terms. They have secrets, but there are no hidden conflicts that slow the action, or that pile murk onto the characters’ motivation. It’s just good shallow melodrama, and satisfying on those terms.
I preface this review with that observation because Tom at the Farm, for all of its skill, nuanced performances and intriguing relationships, fails to satisfy because it lacks clarity and simplicity, or just the things the other film excelled in. But I think Dolan is still an adventurous and original filmmaker, as I noted in my review of Mommy (2/3/2015), which was made the year before this film.
The story concerns Tom (Dolan), a young man from Montreal whose male lover, Guillaume, had died in an accident. He has come to the farm where Guillaume grew up for the funeral. There he meets Guillaume’s mother, Agathe, (Lise Roy) who did not know of her son’s homosexuality, and his older brother, Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal). Francis, a hulking and violent man of 30, threatens Tom if he reveals his true relationship with Guillaume. He has lied to his mother about his brother’s sexuality for years, to the point of inventing a girlfriend for him named Sara. In fact, Agathe is furious that Sara did not come for the funeral.
The rest of the film concerns the relationship of these three people. A fourth character (played by Evelyne Brochu), a girl summoned by Tom to pretend to be Sara, also enters the film, but briefly.Twisty and sexually charged, the story maintains interest, but at a sloggy pace, until its melodramatic conclusion. I just never bought into it. Francis is clearly a repressed homosexual, in violent denial. Tom’s own ambivalence – he is frightened of Francis, but is also powerfully attracted to him – is another dominant theme. But we’re way ahead of Dolan in “catching on” to this, and several “surprise” revelations, late in the story, are just literary touches that lack organic integrity.
As with Mommy, the film reveals Dolan’s fascination with people thrown together into makeshift families. There’s certainly rich dramatic material there. But Tom at the Farm never engages his strengths. Although shorter than Mommy, it plays longer. However, I certainly expect this fascinating young talent to catch fire again.