Tom at the Farm is a gripping thriller by French Canadian auteur Xavier Dolan. Dolan has a reputation for making highly stylistic films and this is no exception. Tom at the Farm once again proves Dolan is worthy of the hype that surrounds him. The film follows Tom (Dolan) arriving at a remote farm in Quebec that is owned by Agathe, (Lise Roy) the mother of his recently passed lover, Guillaume, and run by her son Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal). Tom arrives to mourn the loss of his partner only to be told he must lie about their relationship, speaking his own words of love and grief as if they were said by a fabricated girlfriend.
Dolan has never been a director who shied away from representing queerness. With the (arguable) exclusion of Mommy, all his films to date have contained representations of queer desire. Tom at the Farm is an interesting film to place in the queer film canon. It is not a film that is incidentally queer – instead the closet and the spectre of homophobia propels much of the narrative. However, this is used merely as a narrative conceit in order to create tension between Tom and his late partner’s psychotic, closet-case brother. It is from here that the real narrative drive is taken. The abusive dynamic that forms between Tom and Francis, where Tom is held captive by a man who resembles his late lover, is the crux of the film and is consistently frightening and titillating. One memorable scene among many is one in which Tom and Francis are physically fighting, only for it to evolve into an erotically charged negotiation in which Tom is overcome by the similarities between Francis and Guillaume. We are reminded, yet again, that more than anything this film is about loss. It is more concerned with grief than it is with making grand statements about homophobia, and it is better for this choice.
This constraint is the most defining feature of Tom at the Farm. This constraint is at times even literal, with Dolan, as he has in previous films, augmenting the aspect ratio throughout the film, confining Tom to a tight 1:1 when he is alone in a moment of grief. There is a discipline to this film. It is through Dolan’s masterful direction and tight script that we don’t ask “Why doesn’t Tom just leave?” Any criticism of plot or characterisation is deflected by Dolan’s irrefutable control over the story that renders the film untouchable. Shots of Tom running through the corn fields are charged and fast, with the vast fields providing much fodder for the stunning cinematography by André Turpin. The film is technically proficient. The way it reveals itself to its audience, everything done with painstaking purpose, is the film’s most impressive attribute. The stark intentionality of each moment keeps us entirely invested. It is film that withholds. It is not film rife with revelation after revelation, but instead it is a slow burn, churning, and filled with suspense.
Dolan’s most recent film Mommy (which also had its Australian premiere at the Sydney Film Festival), is a major turn. The issue with Mommy was that it was too long, too over the top, too self-indulgent. Tom at the Farm is none of these things. Instead, it holds back. Everything is flawlessly paced, with information being methodically trickled out. Where Mommy operates on an extreme emotional level, Tom at the Farm burns low but bright.
Around the Staff: