by Richard von Busack
THE BAD generic title Heartbeats has been grafted onto the Canadian import Les Amours Imaginaires. (There used to be a day when the art-house fans could translate a difficult French sentence like that.) The chicness of this Montreal-made pastiche may leave some cold, but it's a sleek and colorful cinematic jackdaw. Lovely plumage is on view as a seriously equilateral triangle of lovers re-enact a version of Truffaut's Jules and Jim.
Hazel-eyed Marie (Monia Chokri) is a slave to the retro, even if it means she gets accused of dressing like a 1950s housewife. She and her homosexual friend Francis (star and director Xavier Dolan) encounter a devastating love object: a trust-funded Adonis of indeterminate sexuality, Nicolas (Niels Schneider). He is just about too beautiful and too cool to live. He becomes a wedge between the two friends, who used to get along cozily, scathing the fools and bad dressers in their vicinity. They both go crazy trying to court this golden-haired love object, following him up to his mother's place in the country.
Dolan makes a perhaps dubious decision to intercut the action with excessively zoom-lensed confessional testimonials from other victims of love. This seems discursive even by Francophonic cinematic traditions, distracting from the matter at hand. Dolan has an auteurist bent, since he designed the costumes and the dcor as well as directed. We see here what seems like an entire community trying to raid the French New Wave. He has transform Montreal into a '60s Paris without cuteness—it's a state of mind, of definition and intellectual rigor, rather than of borrowed visuals.
The soundscape includes the one-named Italian/Egyptian singer Dalida's version of Sonny and Cher's "Bang Bang" coming up repeatedly like the Mamas and the Papas on a Wong Kar-wai soundtrack. Sometimes, the groan of a Bach cello signals stuffier overtones, as in a tinted love scene where a single breast is offered up like a plate of nouvelle cuisine. Dolan is happier with the '60s method of idealization: the slo-mo sway of Marie's rather nice behind or the studies of her cowled like Audrey Hepburn and delivering cafe observations like "Smoking a cigarette is like forgetting." Heartbeats' tone may be serious, but the film is refreshingly never self-serious.