Tom à la ferme

This is Xavier Dolan’s fourth film and he has spoken of his first three features inadvertently being a trilogy about impossible love. Tom à la ferme is more of a psycho thriller and may not be about impossible love but it is about a love that cannot speak its name.

The first scene is a close-up of a napkin. A man is writing a love letter to his lover and the letter is also saying farewell. We then cut to the titular Tom (Xavier Dolan), all bleach blond curls and cute punk pixie, driving in the vast expanses of the Quebec countryside. Arriving at his destination, an isolated farm, he finds nobody home. Letting himself in, he falls asleep and is woken by the elderly female home owner, Agathe (Lise Roy).

Is he here for a job? No. Tom’s an advertising copywriter in Montreal and he’s here for his boyfriend’s funeral. Trouble is, mum doesn’t know her dead son is gay. During the night, the dead man’s brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) threatens Tom not to mention the true nature of their relationship and not to read his loving tribute at the funeral. Francis is a real beefcake of a man, simmering with barely suppressed rage. He is the antithesis to Tom’s elfin pretty boy. Refusing to speak at the funeral, Tom is threatened again and is drawn back to the farmstead. Agathe states, “Tomorrow Francis will teach you how to milk the cows” and without more ado, Tom becomes part of the household.

What is intriguing here is Tom’s willingness to fall in with this mad – and probably psychotic – duo. We see no calls in to work, no hesitation, just a brief moment of confusion before his acceptance. Could it be because Francis shares so many traits with his brother? Or has grief made him a little unhinged? Or do the family hold some kind of mental sway over the people they meet? When Tom’s friend Sarah arrives after a month of his being on the farm, she immediately senses the madness but later is happy to have sex with Francis, the man who earlier that night had been such a threat. And we see that it has taken a month for Tom to be drawn into the madness.

There are some extremely comical moments, such as a hay barn tango between the two leads, but it is always against a background of menace. This is a mad, Hitchcockian psychodrama (the chase through the cornfield reminiscent of North by North West, and the family sharing something with the Bates household of Psycho). Agathe is an incredible character, all apple pies and twinkling eyed innocence on the surface, but with an undercurrent of anger and lunacy that leaks to the surface through violent slaps and hysterical laughter. The three principal actors excel at this portrayal of a household teetering on the brink of insanity.

The question is, can Tom escape the spell that has been put on him? We are given an answer in a pivotal moment of the film. This is a bonkers and chilling romp, and whilst we may find it hard to accept Tom being lured in so easily, if you accept the story you’ll enjoy the film.