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21-year-old Xavier Dolan is fast becoming the star of Canadian cinema. The Quebec prodigy stormed on to the international scene with his debut J'ai tué ma mere (I killed My Mother) winning three awards at Cannes last year.
His follow-up is Les Amours Imaginaires (Heartbeats in English) and centres on a three-way love triangle. Dolan himself plays Francis, a gay Montrealer who becomes infatuated with a young socialite named Nicolas, played by Niels Schneider. Instantaneously, Francis' close friend Marie, played by Monia Chokri develops feelings of her own for Nicolas.
As the tumultuousness of love for Nicolas deepens for the two of them their close friendship begins to suffer. The two friends become embroiled in a struggle to please Nicolas who appears to represent Dolan's own ideal.
The theme of idealization is explored notably in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo and Thomas Mann's Death in Venice which was made into a film by Luchino Visconti. There is a scene at a party where Marie envisions Michalangelo's David, the artist' own physical ideal when staring admirably at Nicolas.
Romantic obsession begins to take hold of the two friends as they vie for the affection of someone who will never return their love. Like in I killed My Mother, his follow up is about Dolan's struggling with his own homosexuality. The film is also a meditation on the senselessness of love and why its own madness is what makes it so appealing.
Dolan is undoubtedly a big talent. Monia Chokri who plays the muse of the film shines the brightest in front of the camera. Her archaic hairstyle and fashion sense would remind anyone familiar with French actress Anna Karina. And that provides a clue in who Dolan draws his cinematic inspiration from.
Three-way conflicts were a hallmark of Jean-Luc Godard and other new wave directors like Francois Truffaut. Dolan may have drawn his inspiration from Truffaut's own Jules and Jim. But Les Amours Imaginaires has many more references to Godard's early work.
Everything down to the scene settings, cultural references and camera shots are deliberately taken from Godard's early classics such as Breathless and Band of Outsiders. The characters too represent the remnants of the 1960s-style cultural rebellion that Godard's films often explored which still thrives in Montreal today.
One final stylistic note, the film also includes a roundtable of characters not related to the main story discussing relationships. Dolan manages to make it relevant to the story and continues the tradition set by Godard in Masculine Feminine. The third sequence however does run a bit too long.
Les Amours Imaginaires is already out on DVD in Canada. It will be released in theatres in the United States on February 1, 2011 so look out for it.
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