Heartbeats (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner
We fall for those who have power over us. Those whose approval we long for. Those who know how to dangle that approval in front of our eyes, whose body language and conversation knit some suggestion of sexual prize awaiting us just around the corner of the next glance, the next casual touch or accidental innuendo, if only we can respond to it quickly or cleverly enough, and with decisive enough action—a daring first kiss mid-conversation, a wine-fueled invitation to bed, a tearful declaration of love in the middle of traffic—offering ourselves to them, dangling our own approval in front of them at the carefully selected moment, to finally equalize things, to ring in a new era, to balance the scales of power in one dramatic swipe. They will see in the purity of our desire that we too are beautiful and good. Then they will finally love us the way we love them—adoringly, madly, desperately, happily—but they never do. The only thing they have ever wanted is for us to want them—and the last thing they would ever want is to want us. We make our pathetic move, and that is the last we ever see of them. They disappear into the crowd of clones like us who love them for their power, and we are discarded. We walk away, off the grand stage love has built under our feet, and step carefully down the side stairs, back into the maze of tedious, unlit passageways that tunnel the rest of our lives.
Heartbeats almost gets at this, but the movie loves the outfits and accoutrements of youth more than the truth of desire. Like a rooster loosely fastened to its weathervane, the story spins in the ambitious direction of the inexperienced point of view that yielded it. For those who read contemporary poetry, these are bellwether gales. Two things authenticate any trope. First is the style with which it is presented, and second is the context into which it is thrust. Writer-director-star Xavier Dolan, brave in the former, remains afraid in the latter. The moment the ‘beats’ love triangle escapes its vapid playground of Québécois chic houseparties, botiques, and cafés, the action quickly sinks into the forced. Or when the mother of the blond adonis magnetizing the trio is introduced as destabilizer, she quickly succumbs to Eurotrash cartoon. Our otherwise convincing ménage à trois is never convincingly pierced by the outside world; dramatic stakes deescalate to aesthetic exercise where they should be elevating to life. Acting, music, some documentary genre-bending, and the fact that in several scenes we feel Dolan studying desire’s distortion upon our perception of time, however, contribute to Heartbeats‘ surprising charm. The ending made this wry old poet smile. A moment when the deep and simple poetry of human behavior coalesced with the shallow and complicated poetry of human fashion. A union all too rare in this film, as elsewhere.