Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Overlooked Gems #57: Heartbeats/Imaginary Lovers

Grade: 84/A-

Every generation has a large group of talented filmmakers, and each has their own designated wunderkind. The Greatest Generation had Orson Welles, the Baby Boomers had Steven Spielberg, Generation X has Paul Thomas Anderson, and  now Generation Y has Quebec’s Xavier Dolan. While most Generation Y filmmakers are largely still playing around in film school, Dolan has already released three acclaimed films at only 24 years old. His debut, I Killed My Mother, only just found U.S. release a few months before his third, Laurence Anyways. But his second film, Imaginary Lovers (generically renamed Heartbeats in the U.S.), is available on Netflix Instant, and with it the discovery of a major talent.

Best friends Francis (Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri) meet Nicolas (Niels Schneider) at a dinner party, and the three grow close. Francis and Marie fall for Nicolas, who remains oblivious to their feelings. Over the course of several weeks, Francis and Marie compete for Nicolas’ affection, leading to bitterness and outright hostility.

It’s familiar territory, to be sure, but the immediacy and potency of the feelings is unmistakable. Francis and Marie are likable, but their hopeless romanticism blinds them to each other’s desires and needs. What makes their behavior and unrequited love especially heartbreaking is Nicolas’ clear self-absorption and shallowness. This isn’t a tale of true lovers battling, but of the powerful pull of first-sight love and lust over someone they hardly even know, friendship be damned. There’s a reason Imaginary Lovers is a much more appropriate title.

The real pull to this powerfully wrought but somewhat thin story, however, is Dolan’s filmmaking. Worldly filmgoers will recognize tricks borrowed from Wong Kar-wai (sensual slow-motion and gorgeous photography while pop music plays in the background), but Dolan’s handling of these elements are far too assured for him to be dismissed as a twentysomething Wong-imitator. The film has a few playful touches as well, including interviews with a group of unrelated jilted lovers who are a bit wiser about love than Francis and Marie. Dolan will no doubt further develop his own unique sensibility, but for now, it’s just a pleasure to see a filmmaker who’s both bracingly honest and deeply romantic.

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