Heartbeats: A Love Triangle
Xavier Dolan spoke to me. Actually, in his second full-length feature, ‘Heartbeats’, the twenty-one year old filmmaker managed to speak to anyone who considers themselves a modern day romantic—straight, gay, female, male, twenty-something, thirty-something, whomever. To the heart that has gone through the lighting speed ride of anticipation, desperation, and dejection, Dolan’s film is a ninety-five minute reminder of the dismal search for love. The reminder may come disguised as a striking, stunning movie, but it is a dreary reminder nonetheless.
The drama of the film revolves around a sordid, lopsided love triangle: a best friend pair, Frankie (Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri), who both fall in love with the flirtatious, charming curly-haired “Adonis,” Nicolas (Niels Schneider). The rivalry between the two for Nico’s full attention grows more passionate and bitter as the three become further entangled in a bizarre friendship.
Currently playing at New York’s IFC Center, the Québécois film was presented in the “Un Certain Regard” category at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, a section that recognizes emerging talent working in exemplary visual styles. Dolan offers a perspective on love that caters to the cultured urban milieu. Set in Montreal’s Mile End, a neighborhood tailored to the city’s young, artsy, and well-dressed hipsters, the characters drift between dates in coffee shops, vintage stores, theater venues, and cramped restaurants. Such spaces begin to feel familiar for city dwellers alike (Manhattan, Paris, Portland, etc.). Dolan’s vision is recognizable for those who constantly venture into such urban nooks for comfort or romance.
Though the plot isn’t necessarily common—one may not ever battle a close friend of the opposite sex for the same guy—nor is it that fresh, as we’ve seen the concept done in sixties French New Wave films like ‘Jules and Jim’ and ‘Band of Outsiders’ or even in the TV series, ‘Will & Grace,’ Dolan’s art direction compels viewers to invest in the narrative. There is an overarching mood that charges ‘Heartbeats.’ In the film’s more memorable slow-mo sequences that crosscut between the separate, but similar moments where Frankie and Marie prep and travel to meet Nico, audiences feel a dreamy sedateness to love or, specifically, infatuation. Dolan’s combination of rich, polished cinematography coupled with the Italian rendition of Nancy Sinatra’s dramatic “Bang, Bang” results in images that are as romantic as they are foreboding.
The disjointed mood that rests somewhere in between beautiful and uneasy plays into the film’s bitter message about looking for love. The film begins with a quote: “The only truth is love beyond reason.” Irrationality embodies Frankie and Marie’s mutual obsession for Nico, surpassing decency and respect. Though crazed infatuation dismantles their friendship, it also leads them to commit to their climactic, inevitable acts of bravery. Watching Frankie come forward to a rambling confession to Nico (“I really want to kiss you”) cut with a series of flashbacks, fast-forwards, and introspective point of view shots, displace viewers out of the movie into their own headspace. Memories of our own seemingly forgotten heartbreaks, of past crushes, of forlorn attempts at finding love are instantly foregrounded as the film’s protagonists sink deep into obsession. Like Frankie and Marie, the modern-day romantic can be left feeling just as hollow.
Dolan ends the film valiantly with a “one year later” epilogue—a testament to his quirky French filmmaking heritage. There in a redemptive, comical act of rejectees rejecting the rejector; the young director offers a useful impression of his three character types that the viewer can happily leave the theater with, where gay men are passionate, straight women are head strong, and handsome men are assholes.