If you were among those who were utterly blown away by young gay French-Canadian filmmaker/writer/actor Xavier Dolan’s directorial debut “I Killed My Mother,” then you’ll be happy to learn that the film was no fluke. His second movie “Heartbeats” is an equally original and engaging film.
The relationship of best friends Marie (Monica Chokri), who is straight, and Francis a.k.a. Frankie (Dolan), who is gay, is put to the test when they become involved in a potentially lethal romantic triangle. At a dinner party, the BFFs come in contact with self-satisfied blond Adonis Nicolas (Niels Schneider), a country lad studying literature at McGill University and making his way in Montreal.
Both are appreciative of Nic’s attention and, at first, are unaware that he is pursuing each of them. Marie and Frankie both receive invitations from Nic to meet at a café and they prepare for the occasion in their own way. Of course, neither is able to disguise the disappointment at seeing the other at the appointed time in the presence of Nic. Nevertheless, they are on their best behavior and the date concludes with the three of them playing hide and seek in the woods.
Dolan makes effective use of slow-motion and sound. The secret facial expressions that Marie and Frankie share with each other when they think Nic isn’t looking are priceless, an authentic token of their longstanding friendship.
The sexually ambiguous Nic is as at ease being physical with Marie as he is with Frankie. Following a date to see a play, Nic and Marie run into Frankie and a group of friends at a restaurant and once again Marie finds her plans for greater intimacy with Nic foiled.
In spite of Frankie and Marie maintaining sexual relationships with others, they both have their hearts set on being the one to bed Nic and win his love. Their next opportunity is at Nic’s birthday party. With their host “super drunk” in the kitchen, Frankie and Marie take the opportunity to criticize the gifts that each has brought for Nic. But the next morning, after lots of drinking and smoking and watching Nic dance with his “automaton” mother Desiree (the wonderful Anne Dorval from “I Killed My Mother”), the trio wakes up together in Nic’s bed. Even more confusing is that Nic tells Marie and Frankie that he loves them.
But the best, or perhaps the worst, is yet to come, when the threesome leaves the city for the countryside. The tension is thick and when Nic makes feeding Frankie a roasted marshmallow into an erotic experience, things take a turn for the worst. When Frankie attempts to prevent Marie from leaving in a huff, they end up slugging it out on the ground.
Once back in Montreal, Nic doesn’t return any of the numerous voice mail messages left for him by Frankie and Marie. When Nic and Frankie finally meet face to face, Nic is clearly perturbed that Frankie thought he was gay and misinterpreted his intentions. Even worse is the less than subtle way that Nic embarrasses Marie when they see each other on the street.
A year later, Frankie and Marie have repaired the damage to their friendship. And wouldn’t you know it? Nic shows up at a party they are attending. But they have the final word, or shriek, as the case may be. But fear not, as they may have stumbled upon a Nic replacement.
Dolan employs an interesting device throughout the film: A variety of people around the same age as the three movie leads relate personal stories of romantic trauma. The use of this modern Greek chorus along with the style of dialogue spoken by Frankie, Marie and Nic give the film a delightfully queer mumblecore feel. Touching, funny and heartfelt, “Heartbeats” should be seen by everyone with a pulse.