Xavier Dolan takes a stylish and melancholy look at a modern-day love triangle in his second feature film, Heartbeats.

The impossibly good-looking Dolan both directs and stars in this film, playing Francis, the ‘gay best friend’ to Monia Chokri‘s wistful Marie. When the pair encounter the enigmatic and dashing Nicolas (Niels Schneider) at a dinner party, they enter into a funny, touching and slightly absurd battle for his affections.

From leaving well-rehearsed voicemails to full-on wrestling on a forest floor, this film offers a unique insight into the madness, pain and desperation of unrequited love. While Francis begins to fantasise of a shirtless Nicolas surrounded by falling marshmallows, Marie starts transforming herself into Audrey Hepburn (Nicolas’s suitably ambiguous idol), as they both vie for his affections.

The whole film is unapologetically chic and stylish – to the point where it was criticised for being ‘over-stylised’ when it premièred at the Cannes Film Festival 2010. Yet for much of the time, this cinematic exaggeration works.

There is a sense of Dolan’s desire to prove himself as a director – a second feature often being something of a pitfall for many who have made incredibly promising début movies. But there’s also something more. Heartbeats strives to give an accurate portrayal of the complexities of contemporary relationships and, just as these characters are not restricted by the conventions of their 1960s New Wave counterparts, Dolan is not shy about giving his heartfelt story a more superficial wash.

It’s an odd mix, which seems to work better at some times than others, but one which is arguably essential in giving such an authentic portrayal. After all, a good number of today’s relationships could certainly be accused of being over-stylised, as it is this which Dolan succeed in demonstrating to his audience.

Monia Chokri is enchanting as the hopelessly romantic and self-conscious Marie, balancing this film’s tragic poignancy with a lighter, and even somewhat comical, touch. The on-screen chemistry between the threesome is perfectly pitched and, again, comes across as remarkably authentic. Whilst Heartbeats might not have an earth-shattering plot to accompany it’s stunning aesthetic, Dolan’s ability to evade pretension and create something with such a sense of truth means that it certainly shouldn’t be dismissed as simply an example of style over substance.

Heartbeats is released in the UK on 27th May 2011.

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Rating: 3.5/5 (2 votes cast)
Heartbeats: a review, 3.5 out of 5 based on 2 ratings