And different, it is. I KILLED MY MOTHER is a semi-autobiographical piece about a gay teenager who lives with his mother and cannot seem to get along with her no matter what he does. It is raw, emotional and oddly cathartic. There is also a lot of yelling. The film was praised for its gritty, honest look at a relationship that many can identify with. On the other hand, HEARTBEATS is being chastised for being too cold and disaffected. And while it might seem natural to compare a second and first feature, Dolan doesn’t see any need for this at all.
“I believe it can be inferior in the sense that the emotions it provokes are not as intense as in I KILLED MY MOTHER but it was not my mandate, nor my mission, nor my intention to provoke a torrent of emotions in you for this film.”
Intentions aside, HEARTBEATS did stir plenty of things in me. Dolan plays Francis and one night, both he and his friend Marie (Monia Chokri) fall for the same young man, Nicolas (Niels Schneider). Francis and Marie, two pseudo intellectual, neo-hipsters in Montreal, proceed to lose their senses while they pursue a boy who has done nothing to suggest he feels the same way as they do. While their motivations are calculated and controlled, the fury they are both experiencing internally is something anyone who has ever been in love can identify with. Cold on the surface does not mean empty on the inside.
“It is a movie about the various steps of the love downfall,” Dolan proclaims, without necessarily seeing what a downer his statement truly is. “It is literally a condensed journey through typical, impossible love.” The kind of love Dolan is talking about, the same kind of love that comes across on screen, isn’t real but rather imagined (which is more evident in the film’s original French title, which directly translates to “Imagined Loves”). “The movie ought to be as shallow and as empty as the encounter they have.” HEARTBEATS does just this but it does so with sumptuous imagery and romantic grandness. It is a farce after all.
I admire Dolan. Both of his films, regardless of how they compare with each other, are devoid of ego, an incredible accomplishment considering he wrote them both, directed them both and stars in both of them as well. His choices in all three of his roles on each film could easily serve his own self-interests but instead serve only the story and the overall success of the film itself. This requires skill and dedication that I would never imagine a 21-year-old to have but yet here we are. And at 21, he has also learned a couple of other hard lessons he didn’t need to know right away. He now knows how it feels to be criticized on an international level and he clearly knows a thing or two about love.
And neither am I.