Two friends, Francis (Xavier Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri), simultaneously fall in love with Nicolas (Niels Schneider), a bellâtre who, consciously or not, toys with their emotions until they’re both heartbroken and unable to fathom ever loving again. That is, until another bellâtre (played by a famous French actor in a surprise cameo) shows up… The End.
Sounds thin? It is, but there was potential in this little premise to make a potent, fun short film. There’s certainly a solid 20-25 minutes of good ideas written and directed by Dolan in “Les amours imaginaires”, his follow-up to the Jutra-winning “J’ai tué ma mère”. Problem is, the thing runs for more than 100 minutes, which means that we have to sit through a lot of filler, notably endless shots of people walking or looking at each other in slow-motion while some kitschy (Dalida, Renée Martel, Isabelle Pierre), electro pop (The Knife, Indochine) or classical (Bach, Wagner) music plays on the soundtrack.
Now, on a purely sensory level, there’s some enjoyment to be had from the gorgeous, if often derivative visuals that make up the most of this almost non-narrative film. Dolan obviously watched a lot of Wong Kar-Wai, François Ozon, Pedro Almodóvar, Woody Allen and Christophe Honoré movies (plus plenty of old French and Italian cinema, no doubt), and he’s got the skills to recreate elements of the work of the filmmakers he admires.
What “Les amours imaginaires” lacks is a true sense of purpose. A movie with not much of a story is fine if something else makes up for it, like fascinating characters, great dialogue or a succession of powerful self-contained moments, be they funny, sad, exciting, awe-inspiring, thought-provoking or whatnot. Alas, I personally found the trio of characters that Dolan created to be one-dimensional and rather uninteresting, the semi-insightful observations on love and relationships and the catty remarks he’s filled his screenplay with make it seem like a twentysomething French Canadian hipster twist on “Sex and the City” (not a good thing in my book), and I can’t say that I had any strong reaction to any moment in it.
A throwback to the navel-gazing, pseudo-existential Mile-End/Plateau bourgeois-bohème exercises in style that defined Québec cinema in the late 1990s, early 2000s, “Les amours imaginaires” lacks the thing in “J’ai tué ma mère” which even that film’s detractors admired, namely Anne Dorval‘s hilarious and moving performance (no, her silly cameo here doesn’t count).
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Xavier Dolan’s got talent, but in my opinion, he’s yet to make a truly satisfying film. Here’s hoping his upcoming “Laurence Anyways” is the one that’ll do the trick for me.