Heartbeats review

image from xavier dolan's heartbeats

LOVE is a tricky thing. Some people resist throwing themselves in feet first for fear of being hurt. Others fall in love quickly.

But what happens if you and a close friend fall for the same person?

It can be awkward. It can test the strength and foundations of that friendship. It can also be painful.

Director Xavier Dolan sets up such a scenario in the brilliant Heartbeats.

Friends Francis (Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri) are attending a house party when their attention is grabbed by the enigmatic Nicolas (Niels Schneider).

His good looks, blonde flowing curls and flirty character draws them in like moths to a flame.

It’s apparent both of them are smitten by the new boy in town. However, their attempts to get him on his own are futile. In one instance, Marie receives a card from Nicolas inviting her out. In her excitement she contacts Francis to tell him…but he, too, has received the invite.

In another sequence, Marie attends a stage play with Nicolas but when they decide to go for something to eat, Francis is already at the restaurant with other friends. It’s almost painful seeing the look of crushing disappointment on their faces as they fail to woo him.

They up the ante in a bid to attract him by purchasing expensive gifts – a boater hat and a cashmere sweater – and then put down each other’s presents.

It all builds up to a scene involving Francis and Nicolas that is so brilliantly cringeworthy that you can’t help sympathise with Francis – however, the point made by Nicolas is apt.

What we end up with is two friends who seem to live their life in a vicious circle and a great insight into how each deals with rejection.

The film is interspersed with cut scenes of discussions taking place round dinner tables as unnamed people reveal their experiences with relationships and how they handled the pain of being rejected.

Dolan has managed to create a romantic drama where the protagonist is actually the innocent one in everything that goes on. Francis and Marie, vying for his affection, become desperate. But are they really in love with Nicolas? Or are they just in love with the idea of being in love?

Dolan is great as Francis, the gay man competing with his heterosexual female friend for the love of another man.

Chokri is elegent and beautiful. She has a melancholic look about her as disappointment sets in every time Nicolas rebuffs any advances. And she’s brilliant when she plays the ‘flippant’ card later on in the film.

Schneider – who won an award for ’emerging talent’ at the Cannes Film Festival – is perfectly cast as the flirty Nicolas and his performance keeps you guessing…is he gay? Is he straight? In the end, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is the ability for people to read signals and how they deal with overly-friendly people.

The soundtrack also merits a special mention. The musical choices for certain scenes fits are faultless – the French version of Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang is a standout.

Dolan is evidently a director with a clear vision and in Heartbeats he gives us an uncoventional romantic drama that hits the mark like an arrow to the…well…to the heart.

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