Prodigious Canadian writer and director Xavier Dolan’s fifth feature, Mommy (2014), took home a Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Before Mommy comes to UK cinemas next year, Dolan’s fourth film, Tom at the Farm (2013), based on a play by Michel Marc Bouchard, arrives on DVD and Blu-ray. Tom at the Farm is a strange, off-kilter drama starring Dolan himself as Tom, a recently bereaved gay man visiting his deceased lover’s home for the funeral. It soon becomes clear that his mother, Agathe (Lise Roy), is unaware of her dead son’s sexual orientation, an ignorance that her older son, Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), is determined to preserve.
Francis is an unsettling brute: handsome and tall, but unpredictable, insulting, and violent. He slopes around the family’s farm, alternately berating and complimenting the small, slight Tom. In contrast, Agathe seems like a strong breeze could carry her off into the vast agrarian plains of rural Quebec. The longer Tom stays at the farm, the more a feeling of discomfort seethes from the screen. Nobody in the town wants to get involved with the family. The small cast are all excellent. Cardinal oozes menace, Roy manages the heartbreak of the grieving mother with grace, Dolan turns in a fine lead performance as Tom;and, late in the film, Evelyne Brochu (perhaps most familiar for her role in BBC America’s sci-fi series Orphan Black) makes an appearance as a steel-eyed, flirty colleague of Tom’s.
Dolan’s first three films were all character-driven dramas, and that’s also true of Tom at the Farm. However, while I Killed My Mother (2009), Heartbeats (2010) and Laurence Anyways (2012) all work at least partly in the romance genre, Tom skews off in a different, darker direction. It takes unexpected turns into thriller territory. Without ever going all-out to become a horror movie, it is at times a truly scary film and as such marks a real departure for Dolan. There’s a coldness at the heart of Tom at the Farm that distances it from the director’s earlier work. There are none of the transcendent uses of pop music that fans have come to expect. It may lack the visual splendour of Laurence Anyways, but there’s something to be said for the change of pace Tom offers. It’s a very difficult film, one which has no easy method of dissection, other than to say that it is a tense, upsetting story delivered with real nous and artistry.