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    Tom at the Farm (2015): Movie Review

    “With its mysteries and sadness, there’s more than just Tom at the farm.” 

    Based on a stage play by Michel Marc Bouchard, Tom at the Farm (French: Tom à la ferme) is a French-Canadian psychological thriller directed by Xavier Dolan. It was first screened at the 70th Venice International Film Festival in 2013 and subsequently released to different countries in the succeeding years. As kinky as the lead's haystack hair, the film is a dark, riveting tale of a man’s loss and self-punishment.

    “Today, a part of me has died and I cannot cry,” writes Tom on a piece of tissue paper. True enough, gay hipster, Tom (Dolan), with his leather jacket, black Volvo and blond-streaked hair, travels from Montreal to Quebec to attend the funeral of his 25-year-old lover, Guillaume. He arrives at the farm in an empty home. Like him and his punk outfit, Tom is an outsider, an unexpected visitor in an old, backward rural life.

    Soon, the dead man’s mother, Agathe (Lise Roy) arrives and meets Tom. Isolating herself from her neighbors, Agathe lives in her late husband’s dairy farm with Guillaume’s older brother, Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal). That night, Francis, handsome and sinewy but subtly brutish and disturbed, attacks Tom in his bed, threatening him not to reveal to his mother Tom’s true relationship with Guillaume. Agathe, buying a cover story about a Montreal girl, is apparently blind to her younger son’s sexuality. Tom is forced to channel his grief to a fake girlfriend for Agathe’s benefit. That first assault is followed by many others – in the toilet cubicle, in the corn fields, and anywhere else.

    In the days that follow, Tom settles into the farm life while alternately enduring Francis’ physical and verbal abuse. In between carrying out pastoral routines, Tom, now clad in his old lover’s clothes, bears his tormentor’s mix of choking, slapping, beating, tango dancing and flirting. However, things change when Sara (Evelyne Brochu), Guillaume’s assumed girlfriend, also arrives in the farm. 

    Tom at the Farm is an extremely intriguing and disciplined modern noir. The first hour of the film has unsettling sense of mystery and tension. Menace is muted in Francis’ erratic behavior, Tom’s creeping fears, and the minimalist landscape’s bleak watercolour aura. Long shots also create a hollow and expansive feeling of threat, in rhythm with the film’s sluggish yet mesmerizing stride. When Sara enters the scenario, the movie moves a notch higher in suspense and intrigue. Tension is tight as the cat-and-mouse game becomes more irrational yet disconcerting.

    Aside from its fascinating structure, the film is metaphorical and enigmatic. With death on its hand, it is filled with melancholy air and an overwhelming sense of grief. Reflected on the scene at the barn floor where Francis dances with Tom and tells him about why he chose to stay at the farm, the movie is a parable on loss, guilt and regret. For Agathe, there is comfort in self-denial and bittersweet reminiscences. For overprotective Francis, Tom is the perfect replacement of the brother he had lost. For self-loathing Tom, staying at the farm is his absolution for letting down Guillaume. In this cacophony, Tom and Francis develop a fragile and self-destructive relationship, running in a love-hate loop.

    With Tom’s sacrifices, is Guillaume worthy of his love and loyalty? There is no certain answer but Sara’s confession may shed light to Guillaume’s true personality. In fact, the film refuses to offer any explanation to any query that arises. There are hints but there are no solid answers. As much as what really killed Guillaume is a mystery, there is also no clear description of his relationship with Francis. Yet, withholding these information and more gives the firm its darker tone.

    At a young age (26 as of this writing), Dolan is already an accomplished director with five films on his resume. He is also a fine-looking actor and as Tom, he is efficient and brilliant. He conveys an amazing range of emotions with his pretty eyes obscuring what is really beneath them. His constant close up shots provides even more ambiguity and thrill. Cardinal is a perfect fit for Francis. He has a strong screen presence with a charming combination of smoldering anger and raw sex appeal. He conveys Francis’ rage and repressed homoerotic desires with pathetic confusion and undeniable chill. Their moments with Dolan, which are quite plenty, are overwrought and oppressive. Roy, as the mourning mother, swaps between sorrow, violence and awkward laughter. 

    Tom at the Farm, despite its unsettling tone and dark mystery, is a pleasingly intriguing journey at a farm and on the characters’ pathos and struggles. It is haunting, it is stirring, it is moving. With great actors and camera angles, it succeeds in bringing in a different psychological experience.


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