Sunday, June 07, 2015

Tom at the Farm

Based on the play by Michel Marc Bouchard, Tom a la ferme (Tom at the Farm) is the story of a young man who travels to the countryside to attend the funeral of his boyfriend unaware that his boyfriend’s mother knows he is gay as he is intimidated by her eldest son. Directed, edited, costume designed, and starring Xavier Dolan and screenplay by Dolan and Bouchard, the film is a suspense-drama where a young man‘s visit to the country becomes a trip in Hell as he finds himself trapped and forced to lie to his boyfriend‘s mother about her son. Also starring Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Lise Roy, and Evelyne Brochu. Tom a la ferme is a chilling yet evocative film from Xavier Dolan.

Set in the countryside in the middle of Quebec, the film revolves a young man whose trip to the countryside to attend his late boyfriend’s funeral becomes a dark trip upon meeting his late boyfriend’s mother and her extremely-controlling son as the latter knows that his brother is gay. Though the character of Tom (Xavier Dolan) only wanted to attend the funeral and meet with his boyfriend’s mother, he is unaware of what kind of family his boyfriend has where things seem to be fine upon meeting the mother Agathe (Lise Roy). It is until Tom meets the older brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) where things go wrong as Tom finds himself trapped while being forced to lie to Agathe about her son’s life including a relationship with a woman named Sarah. The film’s screenplay doesn’t just explore Francis’ attempt to make Tom lie to Agathe in order preserve Agathe’s memory of her son. It’s also plays into a young man being put into a situation against his will where he is a prisoner in the middle of a farm while he gets to know the family of his late lover.

The script doesn’t play into a traditional structure as it favors more of character study and suspense rather than plot. Mostly to play into Tom trying to deal with his situation as he become accustomed to the world of farming and having to drink and do cocaine with Francis in an attempt to appease him. Still, there’s moments as it plays into Agathe’s grief as she ponders why her son’s girlfriend hasn’t shown up as she eventually would in a friend of Tom which only adds to the dramatic tension. Even as Francis knows what is going on as he is trying to keep things in control and use Tom to do farm work as he would later hope to sell it. All of which plays into Tom trying to ponder if he really ever knew his lover or was it something his late boyfriend tried to shield Tom from.

Xavier Dolan’s direction is very intoxicating to watch not just for his approach to framing and putting himself and other actors into a frame. It’s also in the world that he puts himself in where it is shot entirely on location in a farming community in Quebec. Dolan wouldn’t just use hand-held cameras but also would create something intimate in scenes inside the home as well as some of the places in the farm. Most notably with some unique camera angles into where he would place the camera for a wide shot or a close-up. There’s also moments in the film where Dolan would play with the film’s aspect ratio from a fuller-widescreen format and then into something that is much smaller for some its dramatic moments such as Tom trying to flee the farm as he runs into the cornfields while being chased by Francis.

Since much of the film is shot on this desolate and rainy farmland, Dolan’s approach to the visuals would be to give the film a grimy look where his choice of costumes are less about style and more about something that is casual that includes a colorful jacket that Francis wears. Dolan’s approach to the editing definitely plays into the dramatic tone of the film where he uses jump-cuts and other rhythmic cuts while knowing when to build suspense in certain scenes. Most particularly the chase in the corn fields where Dolan’s editing and use of steadicam shots play into the sense of tension. Even in the film’s third act where Tom wouldn’t just learn more about Francis but also how dangerously close he’s becoming towards Francis and Agathe. Overall, Dolan creates a ravishing yet unsettling film about a man’s visit to the countryside.

Cinematographer Andre Turpin does amazing work with the film‘s cinematography from its low-key exterior look to capture the rain and some of the scenes at night with the lights to some gorgeous interior lighting for a scene where Tom and Francis dance. Art director Colombe Raby and set decorator Pascale Deschenes do fantastic work with the look of the farm as well as the home where Agathe and Francis live in as it plays to the sense of a world that is ordinary. The sound work of Sylvain Brassard and Francois Grenon do brilliant work with the sound to play into the atmosphere of the farm and its layer of sounds to show how sparse some of the scenes are in order to create an element of suspense. The film’s music by Gabriel Yared is incredible for its chilling orchestral score to play into the suspense as it also features quieter themes for its dramatic moments while music supervisor Jean-Pierre Arquie brings in a low-key yet wonderful soundtrack that features music from Corey Hart, Rufus Wainwright, Gotan Project, Kathleen Fortin, Marjo, and a classical piece by Arnold Schonberg.

The film’s superb cast includes a few notable small roles from Jacques Lavallee as the priest in the funeral service and Manuel Tardos as a bartender whom Tom would converse with about Francis. Evelyne Brochu is fantastic as a woman named Sarah who claims to be the girlfriend of the deceased as she appears late in the film as her appearance is an ambiguous one. Lise Roy is radiant as Agathe as the mother of the boyfriend who doesn’t know her son is gay as she tries to hold on to good memories about him while keeping Francis in check. Pierre-Yves Cardinal is brilliant as Francis as this aggressive and controlling farmer who is the older brother of the deceased who is trying to make sure Tom lies in order to protect some secrets about his own family. Finally, there’s Xavier Dolan in an amazing performance as Tom as this young man from the city who goes to the country unaware of what he has gotten into as it’s a very eerie and mesmerizing performance from Dolan that is quite restrained but also very lively in the fear that he displays into his character.

Tom a la ferme is a riveting yet very dark film from Xavier Dolan. Armed with a great cast, an eerie script, exotic visuals, and a phenomenal score by Gabriel Yared. The film is an intriguing suspense-drama that is different from Dolan’s other films but certainly one of his richest films as well as his most dangerous film to date. In the end, Tom a la ferme is a phenomenal film from Xavier Dolan.

Xavier Dolan Films: I Killed My Mother - Heartbeats - Laurence Anyways - Mommy - (It‘s Only the End of the World) - The Death and Life of John F. Donovan - Matthias & Maxime - (The Night Logan Woke Up) - The Auteurs #46: Xavier Dolan

© thevoid99 2015


Brittani Burnham said...

Great review! This is another one I will have to check out.

Chris said...

Agree it was different to Dolan's other films stylistically. After all it was based on a play, as you noted. It was an interesting idea for a story, just slightly implausible to me Tom would stick around so long at the farm. I would have got the hell out of there! I liked it, but had issues with the second half.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-It is coming to American theaters (finally) this coming August though I was able to download a French Blu-Ray version of the film. It is tough but certainly well worth it.

@Chris-Yeah, I wondered when in the hell Tom would get out of the farm but I think he tried to figure everything out but it only made things more difficult. It is still a great film.

Anonymous said...

I'm doing the rounds of Dolan again myself. I've watched them as they come over the years but the more I get into him, but more I want to put them in their proper context. Great review.

thevoid99 said... is new to me as I'm doing an Auteurs piece on him this month as I think he is very fascinating. Hell, he could teach Cameron Crowe many things about how and how not to use music in a film.

Anonymous said...

Pierre-Yves Cardinal WAS SO BRILLIANT!

I think the real reason Tom stuck around is that he was substituting his own grief and loss by replacing it with Tom's family and his gradual obsessive lusting for Francis. It was like reverse Stockholm Syndrome, but eventually it became so unraveled that he saw a truth he wasn't ready to face.

Great review!

thevoid99 said...

@Fisti-Thanks. It is a very strange yet complex film that really showed how good Dolan is. Plus, it's obvious he has studied some of the masters in the art of suspense. I fucking love this guy and he is now one of my favorite filmmakers right now.

Fred Rosa said...

Me and wifey loved Tom at the Farm. I wish Dolan would make more suspense movies around is usual themes.

thevoid99 said...

@Fred Rosa-I would like for him to do more genre pictures though I think his next project might be in that realm.