Earlier this week I reviewed Xavier Dolan’s J’ai tué ma mère and was not entirely convinced that the director merited his cult status. Yet after Les amours imaginaires I could not be more pleasantly surprised by the improvement between the first and second film. Les Amours Imaginaires follows two best friends who both fall for Nicolas, the tall blond stranger that walks into their world. It’s been said before and will be said again, as far as plot goes, the set-up is a modern day Jules et Jim complete with an ironic predisposition for kitsch vintage of that precise time.
Stylistically Dolan again takes his lead from the Nouvelle Vague, interspersing his film with faux-documentary style interviews like in Godard’s Masculin Feminin. The camera frenetically zooms in and out of these mini-confessionals to preserve the style, but the device very quickly becomes overused and visually annoying. These interview cutaways give the film a context; despite the heightened reality of slo-mos and surrealist shots perfectly framed and accompanied by loud, Italian music, this story is not unusual. It’s just one of the many failed love affairs being experienced by all young people. Every one of these stories could have had a film, it just so happens that we ended up with this one.
The film does a fantastic job of building up the stakes while leaving the character of Nicolas as vapid and mysterious as possible. His motivations and emotions are entirely unknown, and he seems like a living embodiment of “ignorance is bliss”. Marie (Monia Chokri) and Francis (Dolan) go through hell at his hands analysing where his affections may or may not lie while Nicolas simply continues in a totally separate universe unaware of any problems and accidentally making it worse. He shares a bed with the pair of them as friends, reaches out to put his arms round their shoulders and seems to act with just enough interest to turn two friends deep in unrequited love into enemies in an uncomfortable ménage-a-trois.
In the end that’s the great beauty and tragedy in this film: none of it actually happens. It’s a story of two people who project a fantasy onto the same guy, a dream which starts to encroach on reality, poisoning their day-to-day lives, ruining great moments and eventually turning the two best friends against each other. What’s even worse is that it’s normal. Everyone in the film is imagining their way to hell and as much as they seek comfort in interchangeable anonymous trysts filmed through filters, the life they imagine for themselves is quite literally more colourful than the love they can acquire.
Quite apart from all this, the film is a technical masterpiece. The cinematography is certainly still in the realm of art photography rather than blockbuster clichés but it loses the clumsy overworked feel of J’ai tué ma mere. The soundtrack lurches between classical music and vapid club beats via Dalida’s cover of Bang Bang but it marries together in a reflection of the three poles of the awkward love triangle that emerges. The references and winks towards a wider culture of art, mythology and cinema stars abound, rooting Les Amours Imaginaires as one of the many archetypical stories that everyone lives through, here rendered with mastery and style.
- Entertainment: 5/5
- Artistic: 5/5
- Intellectual: 5/5