Tom at the Farm
Friday 11th October, 9pm – Odeon West End, Screen 2
Tuesday 15th October, 8.45pm – Curzon Mayfair
When Tom travels to the Quebec countryside to attend the funeral of his friend Guillaume, he’s met with apprehension and anger by the grieving family. But after being strong-armed into staying overnight by Guillaume’s confrontational brother, Francis, Tom soon finds that he can’t leave, embroiled in a family of seething resentments.
More restrained and even than Xavier Dolan’s exuberant Heartbeats and Laurence Anyways, Tom at the Farm’s subdued tempo and hue must have left the 24-year-old tyro with energy to burn. Not content to be the project’s screenwriter, lead actor and director Dolan is also down as producer, executive producer, costume designer, art director, editor, on-set photographer, dubbing director and subtitler. No one doubts the man has talent, but entire rolls of film could be saved if he elected to merely credit the jobs he didn’t do.
And yet, for a film so singularly created, the feel is more Hitchcockian than Dolanian. For Tom at the Farm read Psycho – an outsider stranded in an isolated world, an aggressive kowtowing son who says: “I’m stuck here because of my mum.” There’s even a shower scene.
The massive, lurking hulk of a bull elephant in the room is, of course, Guillaume’s sexuality. Everyone knows he was gay and who Tom was to him – they just can’t say it. Francis is barred from every drinking hole in town for fighting those who question his brother’s sexuality. Even Guillaume’s mother (played superbly by Lise Roy) knows the truth, willingly deluding herself with pat stories about a mythical Sarah concocted on the hoof by Tom and Francis.
And that is the central relationship of Tom at the Farm. The abusive Francis literally takes Tom prisoner, bitching his car, hunting him down when he tries to flee, seducing him and emotionally hamstringing him with a familial guilt that oscillates between Stockholm syndrome and masochism. Pierre-Yves Cardinal and Xavier Dolan are unwavering in their portrayal of this complicated bond, and Cardinal terrifies in his bullying glory.
Sadly, the film’s plotting is awkward and imposed, the soundtrack feels too grand (a haunting rendition of Les Moulins de Mon Coeur aside), and the sparse scenery of Quebec, though it rears its head from time to time, is disappointingly underused.
Tom at the Farm ultimately misses a few beats but is darkly immersive. As Francis says of his family: “Once you’re in, you’re in.”
Tom at the Farm is in the official competition of the 57th London Film Festival.
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Watch actor/director Xavier Dolan discuss the difficulties of crying in Tom at the Farm here: