Xavier Dolan’s Tom At The Farm is a mixed bag. The 24-year old Quebecer wunderkind follows up the remarkable Laurence Anyways with a work that while undeniably aethetically beautiful, struggles in ably projecting it’s content.
No better is this conceptual flawing apparent than with the films closing credits, which feature the song ‘Going To A Town’ by Rufus Wainwright. A lament decrying the land of opportunity and the American way, Wainwright’s ode to despair scores the lonely final journey of one one of the film’s key characters, and yet the pair stands completely at odds with one another. Granted, the scenario looks beautiful, with it’s big city cloaked in neons recalling all of the key players in that particular sub-genre of the modern city flick (Michael Mann, Nicolas Winding-Refn’s Drive, Billy Friedkin), and the song is undeniably affecting, yet welded together the two elements mean nothing. It strikes as terribly odd and jarring that Dolan would cite a song that is so definitive in it’s meaning and attach it to a picture to which it is wholly, distractingly unrelated.
This fractured relationship between emotional content and the manner in which it is portrayed is endemic throughout. Dolan admirably screws with the form of the motion picture, skewing the films aspect ratio to emphasise certain feelings and tonal shifts, constantly reminding the audience that it is cinema that he is creating, not reality, and while it’s moderately affecting on a literal, instantaneous level, it ultimately doesn’t add up to very much. At times seemingly channeling Hitchcock, with it’s dramatic string-driven score and mysterious aura, Tom At The Farm hints at being the work of a cine-literate figure, with one even perhaps likely to celebrate Dolan’s reliance on the overwrought and melodramatic as a nod to the Hollywood cinema of Sirk, which was eventually filtered in to the far-more Dolan-esque delights of Fassbinder. A neat chain of celluloidical events become apparent, even if this most recent link does feel strikingly amateur, which is in itself a first for the young director.
Even with the benefit of hindsight (or perhaps especially so) the actual intention behind what Dolan is saying with Tom At The Farm remains illusive. As a meandering globule on the unpredictability of grief, and the nature in which that particular feeling takes hold of it’s target one might see the anarchic treatment of logic and consequence as apt, but that line of thinking might be to give too much credit to a haphazard, awkward picture. That Tom At The Farm follows on from a feature as well defined and masterly constructed as Laurence Anyways makes the failings here even more the greater tragedy.