Until last month, the stateside future of “Tom at the Farm,” Xavier Dolan’s artful adaptation of a Michel-Marc Bouchard play, looked bleak. It premiered at the 2013 Venice Film Festival to strong reviews. What took so long?
Last November while courting the awards circuit for “Mommy,” Dolan told us that
sales agent Entertainment One was “being very elusive” about why “Tom
at the Farm” hadn’t sold. “It’s such a short film. It’s a psychological
thriller. It’s not like it’s a big gay movie that no one can watch. I
don’t really get it,” he said. “I’m seeing all these movies that are
politically engaged that you would consider a risk marketing-wise, and
they have a broad release, or at least in all the biggest cities, and if
[“Tom”] was only on VOD— but it’s just nothing at all.”
After outpourings of love abroad for his 2014 Cannes winner “Mommy” (distributed here by Roadside to dismal results), Amplify Releasing scooped the hot Canadian auteur’s thriller off the shelf. “Tom at the Farm” will finally be released on August 14, 2015.
In “Tom,” Dolan does double-duty behind and in front of the camera as the title’s brooding, blond-headed hipster who invades the lives of his dead lover’s family — who were unaware of their son’s sexual orientation. On the farm, Tom falls under the spell of his departed’s menacing older brother (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) who oozes an earthy, sweaty, animal sexuality that places him a little to the left on the Kinsey scale. Dolan frames their woozy folie à deux using his usual arsenal of swooning camerawork, editing trickery and aspect ratio flip-flopping, with an uneasy string score by Gabriel Yared that flamboyantly homages Bernard Herrmann. What exactly is this weird relationship? Dolan keeps us guessing in the dark as he ratchets up the Highsmithian psychodrama.
Dolan tried to understand what went wrong, in a recent Guardian interview: “No one knows me in the States, because the movies have been released in such an awkward, irregular fashion, all by different distributors. There is no continuity.”
He’s no stranger to disappointing, and delayed, release strategies. Previously, Breaking Glass gave Dolan’s “Laurence Anyways” a super-small release in 2013, and IFC opened “Heartbeats” in 2011 — both a year after their respective Cannes premieres. His mostly self-funded debut “I Killed My Mother” won Directors’ Fortnight prizes in 2009, but the initial US distributor folded, and it wasn’t released until 2013, by Kino Lorber. “Mommy” worked like gangbusters in Canada and other countries, but Dolan’s US audience remains very narrow.
Still, for any filmmaker whose vision has collected dust on a shelf, “Tom at the Farm” is a redemption story — and a striking film on its own terms. This won’t be a hit, but the 26-year-old director has at least one in the wings, with two hot projects in the kiln including his English-language debut “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan,” set to shoot this Fall, and French-language “It’s Only the End of the World,” which wrapped after Dolan did jury duty at Cannes this year. The films’ casts — including Jessica Chastain and Kit Harrington in “Donovan,” and Marion Cotillard and Vincent Cassel in “End of the World” — should boost the Canadian auteur’s profile in the US arthouse.