December 5, 2021

Venice Film Festival review – Tom a la Ferme

Ah, the movies. Another day at the Venice Film Festival, another study of a man deranged. What is it with filmmakers and the unsettled of mind? Come on chaps, if it carries on much longer I will be forced to step Truffaut-like from behind my computer and start making features myself. Where are the scripts with wit, the stories that charm and don’t depend for laughs on yet another man who should be on medication?

Today’s lesson in antisocial behaviour is Tom à la Ferme, directed by and starring young Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan. His previous films have been successful at Cannes and around the world and his debut was Canada’s entry in the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. Tom – softly played by Dolan himself – is an intelligent, punky advertising executive in Montreal. As the film begins his boyfriend has died and Tom is on his way to the country to attend the funeral with the family whom he has never met.

Sometimes a film can make no real sense and yet have its own internal logic. Tom à la Ferme ticks the first box but not the second. Tom’s character changes scene by scene as he allows himself to be assaulted and imprisoned by Francis, the brother of his late boyfriend. Soon after the start Tom goes along with a huge lie that Francis is telling his mother. At this point there is nothing keeping Tom at the farm, any Stockholm Syndrome has not had time to build and his actions feel forced. If he had just got in his car and driven off there would have been less of a film, but it would have been more authentic. Dolan could have entered it in short film festivals around the world and continued his winning ways.

We see a few scenes of the flat Canadian prairies, but mostly the film is set in the deliberately claustrophobic rooms of an old farmhouse. Tom à la Ferme is billed as a psychological thriller, but it is too low on thrills for that description. The story of violence present and past unfolds and is played for laughs at some points, as when we cut from Francis threatening Tom to Tom holding an ice pack against his face. The music also suggests that this is trying to be a comedy. Within a few minutes of the start the soundtrack swells, reaches a crescendo and gives every impression that the End of the World showdown between the forces of good and evil has started. All that has actually happened is that Tom has sat on a bench.

He shows no grief at the loss of his partner, but it is the the appearance of another character that is most illogical. So much so that the script is forced to give a reason to explain why they have turned up at the remote farm. It doesn’t wash though and we are left with a film that is a sequence of events few of which lead in any sense to the next. A generous sentence could claim it looks at the despotic power that individuals can wield over certain personality-types, but this isn’t that sentence. Francis has no charm that might explain his hold over Tom. What best explains it is the need to make the film a full-length feature.

Verdict: See something else.

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