A relationship tattooed in love and hate, Xavier Dolan’s Tom At The Farm is a tense thriller where homosexual love meets homophobia at its most dangerous.
The Lost Boys by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Something is rotten in the state of Quebec. Xavier Dolan may be back in front of the camera, but Tom At The Farm is a definitive split from his youthful trilogy of impossible love. For a start, Dolan’s fourth film is based on a play by Michel Marc Bouchard, the writer-director-editor releasing a little control over his work. Gone the vicious anger of I Killed My Mother, the visual histrionics of Heartbeats and the high-octane melodrama of Laurence Anyways. And in their place a tense psychological thriller, part Psycho and part Deliverance, but bursting with sexual tension.
After his boyfriend Guillaume dies, Tom (Xavier Dolan) drives to his family’s farm in rural Quebec where he meets Guillaume’s gentle mother Agathe (Lise Roy) and his moody brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal). Becoming aware that Guillaume had never told his mother about his sexuality nor their relationship, Tom is threatened by Francis not to reveal his secret. But when at the funeral he decides not to give his heart-felt eulogy, he’s beaten up by Francis for upsetting his mother. Veering between love, hate and Stockholm syndrome, Tom is drawn into a sado-masochistic relationship with Francis. And despite conflicting desires to flee, to take up residence on the farm, or to invite friend Sarah (Evelyne Brochu) to pose as Guillaume’s girlfriend, Tom’s caught in a nightmare of his own making.
There’s a profound split between town and country in Tom At The Farm, with its long, ominous opening sequence of its eponymous hero driving deep into rural Quebec state to attend his lover Guillaume’s funeral. With his bleached blond hair and skinny jeans, he’s an outsider. But he’s gradually drawn in, violently coerced by his handsome brother Francis to be complicit in his lies, preserving to their mother the image of her straight son. And although Tom has ample opportunity to escape this rural nightmare, and yet he stays – to milk the cows, calve cows and be chased through a razor-sharp cornfield. Compared to the dazzling lights of the big smoke and the gingerbread world of advertising, the country is real – filled with blood, shit and milk. And yet once the scales finally fall from Tom’s eyes, as he journeys into the bright lights of the city as the credits roll, his return becomes a glorious wonder of neon acceptance.
With his fast car and rolling luggage, Tom is the city boy par excellence. But as he swaps his leather jacket for lumberjack shirt and wax jacket, his affections on the farm are transferred too – his sympathy for the maternal Agathe slowly replaced with a more carnal, masochistic desire for Francis, which causes him to stay. At first, Francis is faceless – glimpsed only in the dark or in the distance, the presence of his faceless torso only sensed. But once Tom’s been threatened – on his bed, in a toilet cubicle or pressed down in a cornfield and been spat in the mouth, their relationship turns into something altogether more seamy. They tango in the barn and go drinking together, Francis asphyxiating Tom against a container in an act of sexual domination. Doubt reigns, as Tom clings to the possibility that their violent games might move from arousal to fruition. But when Tom finds out about Francis’ past act of homophobic violence, he realises there’s no going back to a simple life on the farm.
Why Tom doesn’t get on the bus straight back to Montreal with Sarah is unclear. As in the end he returns to the farm neither to retrieve his belongings nor expose the lies that keep Agathe’s pain hurting. And the psychology behind Tom’s sudden conversion to farm life as well as his split-second decision to leave while looking out over Francis’ empty farm are both equally opaque – perhaps he finally reaches the conclusion we had already come to the night before – that he’ll always be second best to a skirt. But with very queer shadows of death, secrets and lies as well as a forbidding Hitchcockian score by Gabriel Yared, Tom At The Farm is Dolan’s very own vertiginous journey into a heart of darkness.
Tom At The Farm is released on 4th April 2014 in the UK