Xavier Dolan as “Tom” in Tom at the Farm (Clara Palardy/Amplify Releasing)
Anyone prone to fits of jealousy should avoid the films of Xavier Dolan. At age 26, he has directed several films to international acclaim, including an award at the Cannes Film Festival. One cannot even take solace in assuming that Dolan is the typical film school geek; the French-Canadian stars in his films and could easily pass as a member of One Direction. Those looking for schadenfreude at the boy wonder failing will have to wait longer, since Tom at the Farm proves that Dolan is one of the most exciting and talented directors working today.
Tom at the Farm may be a slighter work than the Cannes favorite Mommy, but it is a perfectly constructed chamber piece that shows a maturity that most directors twice his age lack. The film stars Dolan as Tom, a young man who visits the farm of his recently-deceased boyfriend, where he becomes trapped in a game of psychological manipulation with Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), the boyfriend’s brother who demands that Tom pretend that the dead boyfriend was straight so that they not confuse his ailing mother (Lise Roy).
Tom at the Farm was adapted from a stage play, and it would be easy to criticize it for the sense of claustrophobia that so many stage-to-screen adaptations demonstrate. Yet this is exactly how the film should feel: The essential premise is that Tom and Francis become trapped in a game of psychological manipulation fraught with the very real fear of sexual violence. Tom and Francis both see parts of the deceased in each other, and despite their mutual loathing cannot let the other go. Dolan makes the astute observation that there is so little that separates grief from fear. Unlike so many works that use the death of a character as a mere excuse to get the characters to fight one another, this film is actually about loss.
It may be overstating the virtues of Tom at the Farm to call it a masterpiece, but it is such a first-rate look into human psychology that applying the term is more hyperbole than untruth. More importantly, it shows that a masterpiece for Dolan is inevitable. Tom at the Farm may not be it, but until Dolan makes a film that persuasively lets him join the ranks of an Ingmar Bergman or a Pedro Almodóvar, he will have to settle for it being one of the year’s strongest films.
Tom at the Farm
In theaters Aug. 14
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