In 2009, at the tender age of 20, French-Canadian writer-director-star Xavier Dolan took the festival circuit by storm with I Killed My Mother, a rough-hewn but crowd-pleasing and extremely promising debut feature. Having a filmmaker this good this early can be exciting, but there’s also the worry of the Tenenbaum Effect, when precocious artists peak too soon, without growing into their talent first. Produced just one year later, Dolan’s beautiful second feature, Heartbeats, goes a long way toward assuaging those fears. It contains all the passion and drama that animated I Killed My Mother, but carried across with greater assurance and technique. Far from being a liability, Dolan’s youthfulness gives it unmistakable vibrancy: This is a love-crazy, movie-crazy affair, laying bare its emotions just as plainly as its influences.
Much like an early P.T. Anderson film, Heartbeats makes it a little too clear what its director has been watching lately—in this case, Wong Kar-wai, specifically In The Mood For Love. Instead of having languorous slo-mo sequences set to Nat King Cole’s “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás” and Shigeru Umebayashi’s unforgettable score, Dolan selects Dalida’s French cover of “Bang Bang,” but the intended effect is the same. Dolan and Monia Chokri star as best friends who fall for the same man, a preening, curly-haired Adonis played by Niels Schneider. The three go to parties and restaurants together, with the friends, now quietly bitter romantic rivals, making their play on a man too consumed with narcissism to pick up the signals.
Heartbeats’ original (and much better) title, Les Amours Imaginaires, speaks to the creative—and sometimes delusional—nature of desire and the way it drives these young romantics to desperation and sabotage. Dolan plays their pettiness for some great laughs, but at its core, the film expresses something true about love’s power to obliterate all other considerations, including close friendship. Heartbeats is a little too neatly drawn, but Dolan’s enthusiasm and vitality compensate for more than they rationally should; this is a film even easier to love than to like.