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Corn-Fed Porn

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Tom at the Farm

The malady lingers on in Xavier Dolan's Tom at the Farm

"You're a waste of cum. What's the point of your life?" That's how 26-year-old Canadian Xavier Dolan (a Cannes Film Festival prizewinner) makes his point in Tom at the Farm. It's another of the gay filmmaker's under-thought and poorly imagined provocations. This time Dolan deliberately uses a frivolous porn movie premise (like Nova Studio's 1982 Down on the Farm) to explore the serious emotional conflict suffered by a young gay Montreal man, Tom (played by Dolan himself in blond, wet-dog ringlets), who attends his boyfriend's funeral in rural Quebec.

What is the point of Tom's life that he would so unbelievably -- insistently -- keep the open secret of the late Guillaume's gayness from both the grieving dotty mother Agathe (Lise Roy) and the hunky, psychotic older brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal)?

Dolan wastes viewers' patience and his own energy ("Oops! There goes another novel," Woody Allen once joked about orgasm vs. creativity) in the misguided effort to be shocking about sexuality, family oppression and personal insecurity. We all experience these pangs at some time, but didn't Dan Savage and other celebrities head a campaign promising "It Gets Better"? Dolan's shtick purveys the opposite idea as if there has been no social progress and news of cultural transition has failed to reach the hinterlands.

RELATED | Xavier Dolan Discusses Tom at the Farm

Pathology is what gets harvested on the Longchamps family farm. There's a bumper crop of secretiveness and mental and physical brutality ("It's October, the corn field is especially sharp" Tom learns when lacerated after running away from Francis' abuse.) The psychosis of Tom's self-loathing, Agathe's willed non-acceptance and Francis' S&M cockteasing provides multiple ways for Dolan to linger in the misery of homophobia.

His "mystery" plot recalls the sexual insinuation of Pinter's The Homecoming with more than a hint of Hitchcock's Psycho. (Pinter's obscure these days and Hitchcock's poetic menace is often misunderstood.) Dolan's cache comes from remaining in the same pigeonhole as the 1990s New Queer Cinema movement --he's stuck in freakiness after queerness became fashionably normalized in the media.

Tom at the Farm

Tom at the Farm is a throwback -- not to the cornball sexiness of Down on the Farm (or the AIDS grief of Cyril Collard's Savage Nights), but to oppression. That's what made gay porn a subcultural outlet and sexual style-guide for generations of gay men who couldn't identify or manifest their longings any other way.

Tom is self-loathing and self-punishing: The rural community he attaches his psyche to is so backward its local bar still plays Cory Hart's "Sunglasses at Night." This implies that urban gays have indolent, decadent lives, still trolling John Rechy's City of Night, carrying the brunt of internalized homophobia.

Scruffy Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) suggests low-life Ben Affleck street trade -- corn-fed straight-boy forbidden fruit. His type contradicts recent insight into male sexual confidence. Claude Chabrol already explored this frisson in his 1958 film debut Le Beau Serge (Handsome Serge), making the small-town masculine beauty of Gerard Blain and Jean-Claude Brialy part of mainstream cinema's gay legacy. But Chabrol's groundbreaking brilliance -- and that of Andre Techine, Francois Ozon -- has made no impression on Dolan. Tom's mourning traduces Apres Lui by Gael Morel, one of the gay filmmakers like Jacques Nolot and Lionel Baier who conceive and act in their own movies, paying tribute to their mentors while clearing out the scary cobwebs that may still be in gay folks' heads.

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Dolan's dissimilarity from his peers and masters can be seen in the way he distances and dissuades gay moviegoers from their most humane instincts. He turns the human touch to an attack (Tom's an emotional "cutter"), which makes him popular only on the festival circuit where pathology is indulged. At least porn intends give relief--and release. This film ends with Rufus Wainwright's grueling whine "Going to a Town (I'm So Tired of America)" as if Tom was emerging from a fever dream, a waste of cum.

Attempting to be an enfant terrible, Dolan's unfortunately made a terrible film.

Tom at the Farm is in theaters Aug. 14. Watch the trailer below:

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