The Work of Xavier Dolan: Heartbeats

This is part of an ongoing series by Rahel Tekeste examining each of Xavier Dolan's films

The act of falling in love is a concept that has been heavily explored in many types of media for centuries, with varying degrees of success. Many of these observations have focused on the innocence and captivation involved; however, Xavier Dolan’s 2010 film explores this aspect in a more realistic and cynical way. This thoughtful and perceptive film examines the complications that arise when one consumes themselves, as a form of self-fulfillment, with the idea of a person instead of the person themselves.

Heartbeats follows the drama and tension that results when close friends Frank (Xavier Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri) become enamored by the same man, Nick (Neils Schneider). As the three of them become closer, Frank and Marie lose sight in their personalities and their friendship between each other. They soon consume themselves with the idea of falling in love with Nick and his playful nature as opposed to viewing their relationship with him objectively.

The film continues many of the artistic trends and reuses some of the same elements as in I Killed My Mother. A few of the cast members from his first film make an appearance, such as Anne Dorval, Xavier Dolan, and Niels Schneider. Also, both films begin with quotes that summarize the themes of the film. In terms of cinematography and editing, Dolan returns to slow-motion scenes set to French pop or classical music, “interview”-style segments that are inter-cut with the main story, effective mood lighting, and stark color contrasts. Interestingly, unlike in I Killed My Mother, Dolan uses the interview footage in Heartbeats to expand the themes of love and insecurity by having other, unnamed characters discuss their disappointments with love and lust. These scenes make the film more accessible to his audience and justify the behaviors and emotions of Frank and Marie.

One element that is integrated in the theme and story much more than in his previous film is the costume design. Along with writing, directing, and editing this film, Dolan also did the costume design. This creative control allowed Dolan to integrate the characters’ clothing into their personalities and provide an external representation of the changes Frank and Marie experience during their relationship with Nick. When Frank and Marie go to meet up with Nick for the first time, Frank wears a striped blue shirt with jeans and Marie wears a simple pink dress. However, as more of Nick’s personality is revealed, such as his interest in the culture and styles of Audrey Hepburn and James Dean, Marie and Frank soon reflect their clothing style based on these aesthetics: Marie adorns herself in more elegant, 50’s-styled dresses, quotes Hepburn, and smokes heavier, while Frank focuses on the leather jackets and finely-coiffed hair of James Dean. In the end of the film, when Nick is no longer the object of their affections, the two of them return to their original clothing styles and habits.

In the end, whether or not Nick was ever actually attracted to Frank and/or Marie does not matter, because the film is not about Nick himself. Dolan instead uses the perspectives of Frank and Marie to explore the dangers involved of consuming oneself with an idea of a person, as opposed to the person themselves. Nick could have exhibited any personality or values, and it would not have affected Frank and Marie’s opinion of him -- they likely would have integrated those elements into their own lives to appeal to him no matter who he was.