Tom à la ferme is Dolan’s best film yet

Xavier Dolan’s latest Tom à la ferme, screening at the Festival du nouveau cinéma, is his best work to date.

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Tom à la ferme


I can’t say that I’ve been a particularly vocal fan of Xavier Dolan’s work to date; while his films are technically impressive and filled with strong moments, they’ve also been mostly immature and hysterical with a side of self-satisfied navel-gazing. That’s why it’s all the more satisfying that Tom à la ferme is such a radical departure tone-wise. Never a particularly subtle filmmaker in the first place, Dolan has found the perfect material for his bombastic style, resulting in a bleak, unnerving thriller that has all his hallmarks without the screeching excess.

Tom (Dolan) has just lost his boyfriend Guillaume in an unspecified accident; beset by grief but unable to properly express it, he heads out to his ex’s family home in the country for the funeral. Upon meeting his mother Agathe (Lise Roy) and brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal, as unassuming a psycho as you’re likely to see), Tom discovers that Guillaume’s homosexuality was a secret that Francis kept closely guarded from his mother. A boorish, anti-social brute, Francis goes to great lengths to prevent Tom from ever spilling the beans or destroying the illusion that Guillaume was anything but a perfect young ladykiller.

Part of Tom à la ferme’s strength may come from the fact that, for the first time, Dolan isn’t working entirely from his own words. Adapting a play from Michel Marc Bouchard, Dolan finds footholds for his own personal peccadilloes while opening up the hermetic world of the play admirably. Adapted plays are almost always stagy, but Dolan uses that claustrophobic feeling to great effect here, crafting a small, tight film that’s nonetheless engaging from start to finish. It’s also his quietest film, free from the histrionics and screaming matches that have categorized his work to date. A fantastic cast (Dolan is working for the first time without any of his muses, save for his father Manuel Tadros, who pops up in a small role) anchors the stark tale, with Dolan himself giving his most measured performance yet.

One might argue that such a radical on-paper departure represents Dolan’s sell-out point, a fiercely idiosyncratic director buckling to the pressures of the mainstream (especially after the disappointing showing of Dolan’s behemoth Laurence Anyways, a 150-minute collection of auteurial excess if I’ve ever seen one). But Tom à la ferme is Dolan’s best movie to date, a triumph of style serving substance that takes its cues from Chabrol and Hitchcock and maintains a fever pitch of unease and suspense from the first frame. It’s a huge leap forward in maturity for a filmmaker that never subscribed to the ‘less is more’ idiom. If this is what Dolan “selling out” looks like, I’ll take three, please. ■

Tom à la ferme screens at the Festival du nouveau cinéma, at Cinema Excentris (3536 St-Laurent) on Oct. 13, 4:40 p.m., $12

Alex Rose explores the worst of cinema on his podcast and blog, Why Does it Exist? @whydoesitblog on Twitter

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