(Original French title: Les Amours Imaginaires.)
French-Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan will turn 22 in two weeks, and Heartbeats is already his second full-length movie. In addition to directing, he wrote the script, stars in it, and gets credits for "conceiving" the costumes and sets (though he apparently didn't actually make them himself). He is also incredibly attractive. You could hate a guy like that, if he wasn't so damned talented.
In Heartbeats, Dolan plays Francis, who is at a party with his friend Marie (Monia Chokri) when both are taken by a handsome newcomer, Nicolas (Niels Schneider). Neither Francis nor Marie is brave enough to confess their attraction, and Nico is one of those guys who perpetually walks the line between being really friendly and being outright flirtatious, and seems utterly clueless to the idea that his inscrutability is driving his friends nuts. The three start hanging out together, theoretically as platonic friends, though both Francis and Marie are -- to the extent that their timidity allows -- flirting, each clinging to every little sign that he/she might be the one Nico's really interested in.
That is the extent of the plot, but Heartbeats really isn't about plot, anyway. It's a mood piece; it's about the frustration you feel when your beloved refuses to notice your interest, an indifference that only makes him more desirable. It's about the desperation of young people in love, and the way that a girl in just the right dress, a boy in just the right suit, can take your breath away.
Dolan is in love with moviemaking, with the beauty of images, and he pulls out every trick in the book here -- slow-motion pans over a perfect face, dancers moving jerkily in a strobe-lit room, bedroom scenes shot through candy-colored filters. The movie has no score, but Dolan uses existing music to set mood nearly as well as Tarantino; everything from Bach cello suites to a French-language version of "Bang Bang" shows up here.
It's often a mark of a young filmmaker that you can easily tell what he's most recently been influenced by, and that's sometimes true here. We get intermittent documentary-style scenes of young men and women talking about their own romantic disappointment that feel like a downer version of similar interludes in When Harry Met Sally; the long lingering shots of Francis and Marie, with emphasis on their brightly colored clothes, are like a Montreal version of Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love. But as visible as his influences are, Dolan is clearly well on his way to synthesizing them into something uniquely his own. I'm really looking forward to seeing what he does next.