Heartbeats: French Canadian Ménage à Trois Moves into Coral Gables Cinema

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Heartbeats, the second feature from 21-year-old wunderkind Xavier Dolan, is an Instagram of the Way We Fuck Now--or, more precisely, the way gorgeously costumed and coiffed French-Canadian early twentysomethings fuck and/or fail to fuck, while tripping over their own misguided attempts to land in love.

The film, which opens at the Coral Gables Art Cinema this weekend, bounces between montages of faux-interviews with young lovelorns--shot with "documentary"-style jerky zooms, establishing that Dolan's interest in generational anthropology is more style than substance--and an equally superficial narrative dissecting the passive aggression of young lusters.

At a dinner party, Marie (Monia Chokri) points her gay bestie, Francis

(Dolan), toward Nicolas (Niels Schneider), a stranger wearing plastic

heart-shaped sunglasses with a halo of unkempt blond curls. "Who's the

Adonis?" she asks, her voice lilting just enough that she could pass off

the reference to the Greek beauty as ironic or not, depending on

Francis's reaction.

He's just as ambiguously cool, and with neither friend brave enough to

admit their crush, both begin to casually woo Nicolas. The three hop

around Montreal together as an ostensibly platonic unit, Marie and

Francis laboring to hide their seduction tactics from each other while

transmitting the message to their common adored.

But which one does Nicolas want? Is he straight or gay, pansexual or

asexual? Francis and Marie obsessively catalog his every gesture and

aside, but the clues he drops only muddle the matter.

With Nicolas a closed book, the director fetishizes the ways in which

the friends-turned-rivals betray their hidden feelings. His slow-motion

montages set to dreamy torch songs mock chain-smoking retro-fashion

victim Marie and the emo Francis for sabotaging themselves by caring too

much. Next to Nicolas, a laconic mess, the over-styled would-be

seducers look like they're in drag.

If Dolan is able to derive a certain comic tension from the simple

threat of what could happen with these three in close quarters, he and

his co-actors often spoil the mystery of the unsaid with the tells on

their faces. When one pair is having a moment, Dolan inevitably trains

his camera on the knowing gaze of the one left out--never so perfectly as

when Nicolas lets a smirk slip while watching Francis and Marie fight

over him.

Too bad that smirk is the closest Dolan comes to any kind of insight

into his characters' behavior. From the dinner-party scene on, Dolan

defines them by what they look like and how they look at one another,

too often indulging in those gazes without critiquing them. An

undeniable triumph of artifice, Heartbeats acts as a kind of bizarro

fantasy mirror, aestheticizing and glamorizing the madness that arises

from unrequited sexual obsession, as drunk on beauty and blind to truth

as its deluded singles.

--Karina Longworth

Heartbeats screens Friday through April 14 at the Coral Gables Art Cinema (260 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables). Tickets cost $10. Visit gablescinema.com.

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