While staying in rural Canada for the funeral of his ex-boyfriend, a young gay Montreal man (played by Xavier Dolan) finds himself trapped and running for his life in the psychological thriller Tom at the Farm. After being released in other countries in 2013, Tom at the Farm will finally debut in the United States on August 14, much to Dolan’s excitement. "It's actually a trip down memory lane because it's just being released in the United States two years after anywhere else in the world," he explains. Dolan's next film is It’s Only the End of the World (Juste La Fin Du Monde), starring Marion Cotillard. We caught up with him to discuss the long-delayed release of his most accessible film and whether this thriller was "too gay" for some audiences.
Out: Congratulations on being a judge at the Cannes Film Festival this year. How was that?
Xavier Dolan: Thank you! It was literally the most extraordinary experience of my life.
See any good movies?
Sure, I saw a lot of good movies. I never watch that many movies in such a short amount of time. I barely watch 22 movies a year. I wish I could, but I'm always working and I try to create time and make time to watch movies and I do succeed every once in a while. Maybe if I'm lucky I'll watch 30 movies a year. As soon as I can I'll watch a movie, but that doesn't happen as often as I'd like.
Now to Tom at the Farm. I had a lot of anxiety watching it. In a very good way.
I was reading that it was a play first. What made you decide to turn it into a movie?
I think I knew right away, when I was watching the play, I was getting emotionally involved, and already half of my brain that was planning how to do this, how this could be like this, and how the movie could work out. I was already dreaming the film. So I was sort of half there, half elsewhere. The potential was obvious and it was also evident that the anxiety you were talking about wasn't as palpable on stage because obviously people being violent towards each other on stage conveys a little less tension. It’s not as charged as people on screen.
One of the cinematic tools I noticed throughout the movie was the use of closeups. I became really invested in each character. Like with your character, Tom, the dark circles under his eyes really conveyed a lot of tension and worry within him. I think that's what really made me connect with the characters and feel something for the movie. Plus, the music really added to the intensity as well.
Thank you. There was supposed to be none. I think I tried to understand what no music would be achieving, but it just didn't work. I thought it would be eerie and weird and that the silence would be charged and tense, but it just didn’t work. It needed that score with that music and I've never used music this way before. I've always had scores made by composers who literally had no experience in scoring movies, so it wasn’t as connected. When I heard the score for Tom that Gabriel [Yared] was sending along, I couldn't believe that that music would be my music, that it would be the music of my movie. I remember thinking, "With this music, my movie will truly look like a real movie." I was excited about that! This movie was what really helped me to understand the importance and power of sound in film and how much it is a sonic tool that supports the visuals and the imagery. I always thought of sound in a dilettantish way, where I didn't understand the full scope of its power. Everything is connected through sound. The floors cracking, the water from the shower, the sharp cutting sound of the corn.
What was it like filming the chase scene through the cornfield?
Well it wasn't cutting at all because it was raining — thank God! [laughs] I have been told that it is very dangerous, but not that day. I was literally gashing through the fields.
Why is Tom being released here so much later?
XD: To be honest, I couldn't make my peace about Tom not being released because I just didn't understand why. I don't feel like it's that indie or that underground. But it doesn't feature a female lead being caught in the house, so it has all the implications — that we know socially speaking — that it does not appeal to a certain amount of people who don't necessarily wish to see that sort of story or that sort of connection between men. That's not really what the movie's centering itself on though. We're not talking about a gay romance here. We're talking about tension, sure, but we're mostly talking about a thriller.
When I first started watching the film, I thought it was going to turn into a twisted, gay love story. There were a lot of moments of sexual tension that I picked up on, and I was kind of glad that nothing did happen.
There was a scene. It was cut. When you think something's about to happen, when they were drunk and Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) is strangling Tom against the metallic barn at night, he was jerking me off.
I’m glad it wasn't shown! It would have been hot, but in a very weird and creepy way.
[Laughs.] Me, too. It was weird and hot though. It just seemed unnecessary when I was cutting the film. It was not what the film was about.
How did you keep the mood up while filming such a dark movie?
Well, it was such a small set with a small group of people, that we would just laugh our asses off all the time. We couldn't take ourselves too seriously to adopt the mood of the movie: How could we ever do that? The logical reaction in contrast to the emotionally stirring things that you shoot is to laugh and be a little more lighthearted in between the takes. We were just constantly having fun.
The French-language film Tom at the Farm is in theaters & VOD platforms Aug. 14. Watch the trailer below: