Tom à la ferme
Director: Xavier Dolan
Writer: Xavier Dolan, Michel Marc Bouchard
Based on: Michel Marc Bouchard‘s play
Cast: Xavier Dolan, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Lise Roy, Evelyne Brochu
Part of: identities Festival
Seen on: 15.6.2015
Tom (Xavier Dolan) goes to the countryside to go to his recently deceased partner’s funeral – only that his family doesn’t know that he and Tom had been an item, or that he was gay at all. When Tom arrives at the farm, the mother Agathe (Lise Roy) is overjoyed that at least one of her son’s big city friends made it to the funeral, but her other son Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) is antagonistic and aggressive. He makes it quite clear to Tom that he better do everything to keep Agathe in the dark and very happy. Soon Tom finds himself completely in Francis’ thrall.
Tom à la ferme is a drama, maybe a psychological thriller, and it’s so incredibly tense and scary that I’m unsure whether I would survive watching an actual horror film by Dolan. But it is so good that I would definitely try to watch it.
Tom à la ferme is a story of domestic abuse that is special in two very distinct ways: for one, the abuse is between two men and these two men are not in a romantic relationship (even though it certainly isn’t free from sexual tension). It is rare to get a story of abuse outside of a parental or heterosexual relationship. And two, Dolan really manages to draw the audience in together with Tom. Usually with these stories, you end up seeing the danger so clearly that you miss how people get drawn into the abuse and it becomes hard to understand why the fuck people don’t run screaming from their abusers. But in this case it is perfectly clear why Tom would be and stay there. Francis is dangerous, yes, but he is also somehow addictive – and as it happens to Tom, it happens to you.
Somehow Dolan manages to get to heart of the matter, precisely because he eschews the usual portrayals of abuse. That this works is due to Dolan’s excellent grasp of his characters and the movie’s atmosphere, but also very much to Pierre-Yves Cardinal who manages to balance Francis’ aggression and violence with a sense of vulnerability and hotness that is the necessary bait to hook you in the relationship. (I would love to see him as Stanley Kowalski, he should be perfect for that role.)
But Dolan not only directed and adapted the play for his film and excelled there, I was floored by his portrayal of Tom as well. You don’t get much verbal insight into why Tom does the things he does. You need to read it off Tom’s face – and Dolan’s makes that surprisingly easy. It’s plain to see when Tom is desperate, when he thinks that he isn’t worth anything but abuse, when he rebels and thinks that he can show Francis that he isn’t broken quite so easily. [Made even more impressive because he is still so young.]
In short, Tom à la ferme is an atmospheric film that inexorably draws you in and that was one of my favorites of this year’s identities Festival. I hope Dolan keeps making movies like this – I’ll try and watch what I missed so far.