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aka - Tom A La Ferme
Canada 2013
Directed by
Xavier Dolan
102 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Tom At The Farm

Synopsis:  A young advertising copywriter (Xavier Dolan) travels to a remote dairy farm in rural Quebec for the funeral of his lover, Guy, and finds himself in the middle of a dysfunctional world of mind games and buried secrets.

After his somewhat indulgent previous film, Laurence Anyways, young Québécois film-making prodigy, Xavier Dolan, returns to form and beyond with this spare drama exploring the darker regions of the psyche. Unlike Dolan’s three self-penned preyious offerings, it is based on a stage play by Michel Marc Bouchard who co-authored the screenplay with Dolan and no doubt as a result of this it is a work that depends on character dynamics and the performances that embody them.

Although Dolan’s directorial approach to the narrative is, not dissimilar to the currently screening Fell, intentionally laconic, merely sketching in the various back stories and taking considerable leaps in realizing the overall narrative progress, the elliptical approach works because of the can’t-look-away intensity of the relationship between the three main characters.

We first encounter Tom, a shaggy boho hipster type driving in the countryside and singing along to a pained love song.  When he arrives at his destination, an eerily quiet farm, he meets a grief-stricken mother, Agathe (Lise Roy) and her eldest son, the taciturn and intimidating Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal). We learn that he has come for a funeral and the deceased was his gay lover, something which the brother knows and is determined to conceal from his mother. The rest of the film is given over to Tom's experiences as he finds himself drawn into and entrapped in this mentally and physically estranged world.

Somewhat reminiscent of Dominik Moll’s excellent Hitchcockian thriller, Harry, He Is Here To Help but with explicitly homo-eroticized themes, Tom At The Farm never settles into pat characterization or simplistic behavioural causation but rather keeps us unsettled and fearing for Tom as he part-wilfully, part despite himself, gets drawn into Francis’s violent and sexually-twisted universe, one that is obscurely connected to that of the comparably strange mother.

Given that we are told no more than the barest about the characters it is the well-judged performances by the three leads, with Evelyne Brochu providing some relief to the claustrophobic intensity as Guy’s pretend girlfriend, which carry the film. In every sense this is a credit to the multi-tasking Dolan (he also filled the roles of co-producer, editor and costume designer, the latter not his strongest suit, so to speak).

A visceral portrait of people in extremis, Tom At The Farm is Dolan's most impressive film to date.




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