Exploring the significance of love and the supposedly seamless traditionalism of modern relationships is commonplace throughout today’s society and contemporary cinema. A seemingly infinite amount of opinions on these matters have sparked many (many) a debate, bringing to mind several questions regarding the lengths to which an individual will go to pursue the guy or gal of their dreams. As for the hopelessly lovelorn duo of Francis and Marie, their longing over newfound mutual acquaintance Nicolas allows us to witness the ongoing deterioration of a once ironclad friendship as their infatuation turns into blatant obsession. Effectively tackling the topic of love with equal parts authenticity and appealingly ostentatious artistic flourishes, Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats is a welcome entry into this makeshift sub-genre, deftly addressing everything that needs to be addressed in spite of its occasional pretentiousness.
Technical brilliance isn’t necessarily what Heartbeats possesses, yet the glaring overabundance of slow motion in relation to the scenes it’s been applied to give the sequences in question a certain special something, almost as if it’s only implemented during Francis and Marie’s respective moments of self-assuredness and realization. By just using the word overabundance, it’s assumed that I was mildly taken aback by how frequently this particular gimmick was implemented into an otherwise fascinating script. Simplicity aside, the insight offered by each one of the pseudo-interviewees is valuable beyond valuable, and it’s the authenticity of their responses that makes each of these individuals respectable authority figures on the topics of love and loss.
The situations presented throughout the narrative are overexaggerated to often humorous extremes, most likely in an effort to shed light on the ridiculous things one will do to (potentially) woo the object of their desire. Absurd as some of these happenings are on the surface, you can’t help but pinpoint how emotionally honest they are in relation to the issues they set out to address. The love triangle subplot certainly spices up the proceedings considerably, straying from the typical boy-meets-girl (or visa versa) framework previous films of this type have often sported. From modeling themselves after the celebrities Nicolas openly favors to quite literally fighting for his affections, the conflict that exists between Francis and Marie is always entertaining and, if anything else, turns the production into a cautionary tale about the bonds we lose sight of as obsession takes its toll.
Dolan himself is thoroughly impressive as Francis, playing off of his equally admirable female costar Monia Chokri wonderfully. The interplay among them and the frequently engaging narrative allows each to shine brightly as Heartbeats‘ centerpieces, with Niels Schneider portraying the aloof, flirtatious and even pseudo-intellectual Nicolas perfectly. The mostly discerning mock interviews also remain believable by way of the individuals interviewed, and as a whole, the efforts of all involved manage to help one set aside some of the discrepancies they’ll have with Dolan’s creative touches.
As a notorious assailant of bold-faced haughtiness in cinema, I was rather surprised by how much I enjoyed Heartbeats. The topic it addresses is far from unexplored, but creativity abound and a trio of likable central characters manage to push past the hurdle this presents and transform the film into an almost wholly enjoyable sojourn. With engaging dialogue and striking visuals to round out the bunch, Heartbeats remains unlike everything you could conceivably compare it to.