Tom At The Farm


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Tom At The Farm
"A complex portrait of grief, Tom At The Farm is Dolan's strongest work to date, not least because of the performance he gives in the lead."

Facing bereavement is never easy, and despite popular wisdom about stages of grief, it's something people do very differently. The general advice is simply to be oneself, but Tom, whose partner Guy has died of an undisclosed cause at the age of 25, finds himself in a situation where he's forced to do precisely the opposite. At the farm where he meets Guy's grieving mother and brother Francis, he is warned by the latter not to mention that Guy was gay. The mother believes her son was happily involved with a girl called Sarah, but is struggling to deal with Sarah's failure to turn up for the funeral. Tom, says Francis, pinning him down on Guy's old bed, is to say some pretty words and then get out.

In French, of course, the title, Tom À La Ferme, is a pun, implying Tom at the closed off place, Tom in the closet. The farm is closed off in more than one way, with a wall of razor-sharp corn at one side, sitting at the end of a driveway cabs refuse to turn down. "Do you ever wonder why I'm still living here with my mother at 30?" Francis asks, and perhaps it's not for the reason we think. As so often, there's an edge of sexual aggression to his homophobia. Tom is listless, self-destructive. Invited to stay a little longer after all, he immerses himself in farm labour a hipster city kid enchanted by the realness of it. He finds himself drawn to Francis, or perhaps just to his violence, to the penance it offers. At a time when he's struggling to find his voice, Francis is brimming over with more than enough dangerous passion for both of them.

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Explaining away bruises begins within just a couple of days. After that, the mother doesn't seem to see them. Bandaging Tom's wrist, Francis is tender, but his personality can change in an instant. It takes just a few weeks for Tom to accept this as normal. But though he is emotionally numb, intellectually he gradually becomes aware of just how much danger he is in.

A complex portrait of grief, Tom At The Farm is Dolan's strongest work to date, not least because of the performance he gives in the lead, which would be taxing even without handling directing responsibilities at the same time. Pierre-Yves Cardinal builds on the promise of Polytechnique to make Francis realistic and even sympathetic despite his obnoxious egotism and sometimes terrifying behaviour. The chemistry between them is considerable and is balanced by a superb turn from Lise Roy as the mother, who has doubtless seen a great many things but makes a careful effort choose what to believe. With its sidelong take on domestic violence, the film acknowledges Tom's collusion in what happens to him, and hints at what it might do to Francis to know he is desired in part because he smells like his dead brother. There's the ghost of a real connection between them - perhaps it's love - but is it worth it?

More often gentle, dry and witty than this might make it sound, this is a film of shifting tones, with deceptively ordinary scenes gradually giving way to brutality as it invites us to accept a different reality. It's compelling viewing and will leave its audience eager to see what Dolan will do next.

Reviewed on: 15 Aug 2014
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A young man finds himself embroiled in a dangerous game of deception.
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Director: Xavier Dolan

Writer: Michel Marc Bouchard, Xavier Dolan

Starring: Xavier Dolan, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Lise Roy, Evelyne Brochu, Manuel Tadros, Jacques Lavallée, Anne Caron, Caleb Landry Jones, Mélodie Simard

Year: 2013

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada, France

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