This hottie impresses them with his beauty and his brains (although once he shows he can use “Manichean” in a sentence he pretty much keeps the latter under wraps. His own mother calls him an “airhead.”). They start buying him gifts and scheming individually to get into Nick’s knickers, while the three of them socialize as a trio and even sleep — but only sleep — together.
Nicholas is free with his time and affection but leaves anything more to Francis and Marie’s fantasies. Each has moments with him they can interpret as encouraging, as when he chooses to sleep in the middle, but they grow increasingly frustrated waiting for more; hence the French title, “Les Amours Imaginaires” (“Imaginary Loves”), is more descriptive.
Francis and Marie are both having sex with other men (and Francis with himself, alone in Nick’s bed) while they’re waiting but their competition over Nicholas strains their friendship.
The concept feels a bit slight to stretch over a feature — it might have worked as an episode of “Will & Grace,” with Jack and Karen adding some laughs. For padding Dolan inserts three segments of unidentified people talking to the camera about their own romantic misadventures as if they were in reality show confessionals. Aside from showing that things are tough all over this adds nothing to the story, only takes us out of it for a few minutes at a time.
The story is obviously of less importance to Dolan than experimenting with technique. In addition to writing, directing and starring in “Heartbeats” he’s one of three producers and handled costumes, art direction and editing on his own.
The plot of “Heartbeats” is a twist on Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim,” in which two male friends competed for the love of an enigmatic woman. Nicholas is the personification of the Buñuel title “That Obscure Object of Desire.”
The interplay and sex play among young adults recall early Gregg Araki films, before he became more complex and ambitious. Wong Kar-wai inspired the lighting of scenes of Francis and Marie with various sex partners, each one shot with a different monochromatic filter: red, green, yellow, blue.
Almodóvar’s use of pop songs is mimicked by Dolan, especially when he plays Dalida’s version of “Bang Bang” — in Spanish — three times.
When the camera zooms in and out repeatedly and too many scenes are shot in slow-motion, it’s not clear whether Dolan is imitating someone or just being irritating.
Still, I wouldn’t count Xavier Dolan out. “I Killed My Mother” was one of the best queer films of the last decade and I fully expect the man who made it to give us one of the best of this decade. “Heartbeats” isn’t it.
Top photo: Xavier Dolan directs and stars as Francis in ‘Heartbeats.’ (Courtesy photo © Mifilifilms Inc.)