Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan is almost indecently precocious. After writing, directing and starring in the favorably received J’Ai Tué Ma Mère (2009), he has now done the same thing in his second film, Les Amours Imaginaires. And he’s still only 21.
The story of Les Amours Imaginaires is simple: friends Francis (Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri) both fall under the spell of the seductive and beautiful Nicolas (Niels Schneider). The entire movie revolves around their developing relationship with Nicolas and the effect this has on their own friendship.
Dolan vividly evokes the all-too-familiar scenario of a charming man who seems to prefer the ambiguity of flirtation to the reality of commitment, and Schneider is perfectly cast to play the role. (Another actor known for his sexually ambiguous roles, Louis Garrel, makes a fleeting appearance at the end of the film.) However, with such a thin plotline, Dolan often resorts to style over substance, using frequent slow-motion shots and lingering glances in a way that is reminiscent of Wong Kar-wai’s exquisite-to-look-at but, to my mind, vapid In the Mood for Love (2000).
At its best, the camera work is wonderfully controlled and visually ravishing. Marie is done up to resemble Audrey Hepburn and Francis to look like James Dean (the comparison is openly signaled during the movie); and the subtlety of both Dolan and Chokri’s performance is impressive. One scene in particular – in which Nicolas’s mother (beautifully played by Anne Dorval) and Francis have a conversation about Nicolas – manages to be comic, poignant and poetic at the same time.
The director betrays his youth, however, by overusing various stylistic traits and depending too much on the admittedly well-chosen soundtrack (Dalida’s “Bang Bang,” Bach’s cello suites, and the prelude to Wagner’s Parsifal). And, while the short clips of other people talking about their love lives are amusing or touching, they add little to the film itself.
The Quebec accent and vocabulary are often incomprehensible to French audiences, and for that reason parts of the movie include French subtitles, but why were some scenes subtitled and not others?
Dolan is clearly a great talent. His best may be yet to come, just so long as he relies a little less on style and a lot more on substance in his future movies.Favorite