Next time you go on a whim, try to go for the soybean field. It’s October, corn cuts like a knife.
How often do you watch a film where you don’t know the plot beforehand? That was the situation I found myself in recently when I watched the French language film, “Tom à la ferme” (Tom at the Farm). I had seen it on special offer on iTunes a few weeks ago and just from the poster it looked like an intriguing film, so without knowing what the plot was, even to the point where I didn’t watch the trailer, I decided to wait until I started this blog before watching it blind.
I had no preconceptions about the film going in, all I knew was that it wasn’t in the English language, which is an area I don’t touch on that often to be honest as I tend not to enjoy foreign language films, and can only think of a mere handful in my DVD collection (mainly REC, the Spanish horror franchise), but I might take a closer look at Xavier Dolan’s work after he wrote, directed and starred in this rather suspenseful film as themes such as violence, sexual tension and stockholm syndrome are explored in it#s 102 minutes.
In many ways it being in a foreign language makes it somewhat more enjoyable as you catch more of the plot reading the subtitles, and unlike some other French language films, this has it in abundance. Each of the characters is meticulously written with meaningful purpose (expanded on from the characters in the play that the film is based on) and not a single moment feels wasted, something which I certainly can’t say about a lot of modern films.
Tom )Dolan) arrives at the farm of his now-deceased boyfriend’s family ahead of the funeral. He becomes friendly with Agathe (Roy), the deceased’s mother, although he soon realises that she did not know of her son’s sexuality and in order not to make the situation worse (finding out that her son had been lying to her) for the grieving mother, Tom decides to not read out his speech during the ceremony, a move that particularly offends Francis (Cardinal), the brother.
Francis subsequently terrorises Tom by both physical and mental intimidation, forcing him to remain on the farm by the way of violence, removing the wheels from Tom’s car and various other methods. After several failed attempts to escape, as well as his feelings of guilt towards not correcting Agathe’s ignorance of her son’s sexuality, Tom slowly starts accepting the fate that he will never leave the farm. He also starts developing an attraction to Francis, which makes the situation even more difficult for him.
The two develop a very fragile friendship that is complicated by Francis being fully aware of the relationship between his now deceased brother and Tom, as well as trying to hide the truth from his mother.
So, was it better not knowing the plot?
In a lot of ways yes and I would recommend it. Going in you have no idea what is going to happen, you’re just there for the ride and Xavier Dolan does an excellent job of throughout.
The film does start off with pretty much the only point of aggravation I have with the whole runtime, some terrible camera work. The first five minutes consist of just Tom and at times the camera is so close to him that if the character is going around a corner, the camera follows and we’re suddenly looking at his shoulder, it felt very rushed and I will be honest, I did almost turn off due to that camera work. Fortunately the film does become steadier as it goes on and the cameraman learns how to do his job properly. That is the only major negative in the film and other than that, the opening to the film is excellent as Tom explores the empty farm with some very tense music, and throughout the entire feature the music is excellent.
Dolan does an excellent job as Tom and the way the character develops throughout is exceptional. When he arrives he is very neat and tidy, but once Francis has his grip Tom no longer cares about his appearance, and doesn’t even bother combing his hair, all of which makes the strong hint of Stockholm syndrome towards the end even more haunting.
Cardinal is haunting as Francis, almost to the point where you never know truly what he is thinking. One minute he acts as though he is perfectly in love with Tom, such as a scene where they dance together, and literally in the next you see Tom nursing a black eye. The Francis character has to deal with a lot of internal conflict and his performance, and the general appearance of him, reminds me a lot of how Zarchary Quinto portrayed Gabriel/Sylar in Heroes.
There are many examples of Francis flipping from a seemingly pleasant individual to one that you couldn’t want to meet in a bar (which seems fitting based on a conversation that Tom has with a barman towards the end of the film) and on several occasions they go from having what could best be described as a “nice moment” to Francis coming close to beating the life out of Tom. It’s the type of antagonist that I enjoy watching, one with unpredictability, similar to Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight.
With only three characters for the majority of the film, it would become easy for the story to feel limited, but the conflict with Tom of whether he wants to escape or stay and develop his relationship with Francis further (but risk being severely injured on a regular basis) is entrancing, especially near the beginning of the film when you see him making an escape, swearing in various languages before realising he has left his luggage and going back, but then just a few scenes later he is presented with an opportunity to leave and doesn’t take it.
One of the highest points of praise I could also give the film is that the conversations between the characters feel natural. One of the main problems in mainstream films is that very little is said that doesn’t advance the plot, it doesn’t just flow and life doesn’t work like that. One such example of a natural feeling conversation is in the car between Jules and Vincent in Pulp Fiction where the latter reflects on his recent holiday in France, something that was completely irrelevant to the plot and that’s what life is like. If you’re on your way to work (for example) with friends, you don’t talk about what you’re going to do at work, you just have natural conversations, and that is what this film has in abundance.
The addition of a fourth character towards the end wasn’t needed in some ways and ultimately does make the ending feel somewhat forced and unnatural, but let’s face it, how many endings don’t feel forced these days?
So worth watching then?
Yes, it is. I’m not going to lie, it’s not going to be a film that I will revisit on a regular basis. It’s one of those films that you don’t need to see it a second or third time to be satisfied with it and I would say in terms of a plot, character development and visuals, it is up there with one of the best films I have seen during 2014. I’m probably not going to watch it again, but I feel I don’t need to but I would recommend that you all do.
It is a shame that this film wasn’t widely released at the cinemas as it could have become a modern day classic. It was released in the UK in April 2014, but like most other countries, unless you saw it at a film festival, you weren’t likely to see it at all.
I will keep exploring Dolan’s films as he has a promising future if this is anything to go.