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Brad Balfour

Brad Balfour

Posted: March 6, 2011 09:25 PM

Films in Review: Two of the Next Generation for Francophiles


The Oscar weekend was a salute to both youth and tradition. The 2011 Academy Awards broadcast put the young James Franco and Anne Hathaway on the world's glitziest dais where they exemplified modern culture (witness the texting references) while The King's Speech -- a British paean to traditional storytelling -- took the bulk of the big awards.

Youth and tradition won another round in the recently released Heartbeats, the latest film by French-Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan. Drawing on various tropes from the French Nouvelle Vague of the '50s and '60s, the 22-year-old Dolan tells a tale of Montrealer 20-somethings and their fractured threesome -- well, that is, an imaginary one.

Son of thespian Manuel Tandros, this former child actor (in films such as J'en suis!, Le Marchand de sable and television series such as Omertà), Dolan was praised when his first film as a director/screenwriter/actor, I Killed My Mother / J'ai tué ma mère, won Director's Fortnight awards at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.

Of course because Dolan is an actor as much as a director, he takes on one of the leads, Francis and, as an openly gay man, lavishes attention on the blond-tressed cherubic Nicholas (Niels Schneider). His friend, the sweet, demure Marie (Monia Chokri) joins in the menage.

Set among the cool kids, Dolan intersperses interview-style monologues with a wan tale of youthful idealized love and how it turns from desirable to pained once the rivalry begins. In this instance, Marie and Francis vie for the attention of the narcissistic Nicholas. Though they never really engage in a full-blown threesome, there is a dreamed fantasy of one that sets off the joust.

With languid camera views and walks in the woods, the film plays on a dreamy vision of youth while darker emotions lurk beneath. Much like the classic French films that influenced it, Heartbeats feels as much like cinema from another age as it does of the 21st century. And though it is a bit of a trifle, it melds a touch of mumblecore with '60s-styled introspection that reveals an insightful cineaste-in-the-making.

Although Dolan sometimes veers towards the self-indulgent, his multiple talents displayed here suggest a maturing filmmaker who doesn't have to make every film a masterpiece. It's enough that he flashes a few masterful moments to prove himself as a talent to reckon with.

Like Dolan, French actress-turned-director Isild Le Besco also started out young, a sort of enfante terrible of the digital set. Several years ago she made her first feature, Demi-tarif, about three kids running rampant in Paris, free of parents and responsibility. Demi-tarif was only her maiden foray into anarchic youth.

Whereas Dolan's work draws on his search for self, Le Besco uses filmmaking to revel in her dark side, something so clearly displayed in her latest directorial turn, Bas Fonds, another look at a chaotic youth gone wild.

A shambling set piece about two feral sisters and a young woman entranced by the older ugly one, the characters and film are both savage in ways and means. By experimenting at such a dewy age, Le Besco still has lots of room for mistakes as well as successes. And this, her latest effort is a liberal mix of both.

On the other side of the camera, actor Le Besco has made several beautiful and provocative films by various top-flight directors, also probing sexuality and release. She collaborates in an exploration of the erotic wild side in Jacquot Benoit's Deep in the Woods, currently on view in Film Society of Lincoln Center's annual crowd magnet, Rendez-vous with French Cinema. Fashioned by the sure hand of director Jacquot, the film is both seductive and repellent -- a dynamic examination of dominance and submission.

Nonetheless, these frightfully precocious 20-somethings are wise beyond their years, expressing themselves in richly divergent ways so keep an eye for these two Francophones.