Xavier Dolan's Tom At the Farm is an examination of the psychological impacts of repression and parasitic, violent relationships and it's so good it will make your hairs stand on end. Tom (Dolan - he writes, directs and stars) drives out into the country to attend the funeral of his lover Guillaume. For the family, particularly his mother Agathe (Lise Roy) and the fiercely conservative community, he must pose as a dear friend or face abuse from Guillaume's brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal).
Dolan echoes Hitchcock in so much of how Tom at the Farm takes shape. From the beginning of the journey to his destination Dolan dwarfs Tom's black car running down the tiny streams of black tarmac amongst farmland off into the horizon. As Tom gets to the farm, the house feels as if it's deserted. His phone has no signal, there's a frightening sense of isolation. His presence seems to conjure up Agathe and Francis like roaches appearing when the lights turn off. Dolan's adaptation of Michel Marc Bouchard's original play builds like an avalanche. As life beyond the farm takes shape in even the most superficial ways, the family's reputation begins to show its stain. Every scene adds exponential power to the one that proceeds and you'll feel like you're being whipped into a frenzy with Tom. Getting in the characters faces around the dinner table, where the crevasses of each actor's weary face is on show or bar tender revelations about the family, Dolan has a great sense of what he should be overt with, and where to have restraint.
Agathe (Roy) is so frail not only due to her age but burdened with the emotional toll of Guillaume's untimely death. Seeing Tom, who she knows as her son's best friend, is completely reassuring, like a whisper of the light he had is being nursed in Tom. Roy does a wonderful job of conveying the frailty and despondency in a whole gestural performance; but like the frail sweet library ghost in the opening scene of Ghostbusters, you feel like you're one raised voice or insult away from an uncontrollable rage.
Francis on the other hand is a manic homophobic force. Firstly waking Tom in the middle of the night, physically silencing any cries for help to demand that his orders are followed and that the secret of his brother's sexuality never be revealed. Next is a kind of hazing to adhere to a story he concocted about Guillaume's love Sara and assisting around the farm while he's there for politeness sake. Any sense of derision is met with violence. Cardinal is an intense physical performer and his different coloured eyes (he has heterochromia) pierce with their different hues. There's also this unsettling 'walking on egg shells' around his mother that subliminally screams Hitchcock's Psycho score at the viewer. And yet there's a scene of the film that sees Dolan's Tom dragged into an empty barn with Francis (Cardinal). Time after time, through Tom's experience, you've felt like you're only one temper flare away from Francis taking Tom's life. In this instance though Francis turns on some music and tightly caresses Tom and begins waltzing around the barn. Evidently the brothers are classically trained dancers and Tom learnt a few steps with Guillaume. For all the taunts, violence and fear mongering of the film this scene explodes with sexual charge, and leaps the narrative off into a new direction.
Dolan's performance as Tom is captivating. He conveys the excruciating serenity of imprisoning his emotions for the sake of Guillaume's family conception. He's clearly dedicated to putting himself through the physical toil of the performance but he's make your jaw drop at what the culmination of all his abuse does to Tom.
Tom at the Farm is a horrific evocation of what fear, responsibility and sexual allure to do to a fragile state. It's frightening, intoxicating and near perfect.
[rating=4] and a half
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Xavier Dolan Written by: Xavier Dolan (based on the play by Michel Marc Bouchard) Starring: Xavier Dolan, Pierre-Yves Cardinal,Lise Roy,Evelyne Brochu,
Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.