Xavier Dolan’s Tom at the Farm originally debuted in 2013 but has now officially been released in U.S. in 2015 most likely due to the recent success of his current film, Mommy. In Tom at the Farm, Dolan both stars and directs, and also co-wrote the script for the film with Michel Marc Bouchard, which was based on Bouchard’s stage play.
Tom is grieving the loss of his boyfriend, Guillaume, and drives out to country for his funeral. He arrives at a dairy farm where his deceased lover’s family lives only to discover they don’t know who he is. Tom discovers Guillaume has an older brother, Francis, who doesn’t seem to take kindly to the fact that Tom has arrived. He informs Tom that he needs to keep up the charade of being Guillaume’s friend so that his widowed mother, Agathe, never finds out the truth about her dead son (Francis reveals he had tried to contact Guillaume a while back, and when Tom answered the phone, Francis figured out their relationship).
After the funeral, Tom considers leaving and returning back to city, but then decides to stay. Agathe lets Tom borrow Guillaume’s old farm clothes, and soon Tom ends up helping out around the farm. However, Francis has violent tendencies. From the very beginning he abuses Tom, hitting him until Tom is pretty much covered in bruises among other injuries. He alternates between being abusive, then turning around and being kind to Tom. Francis is homophobic, but at the same time he is also repressing homosexual feelings. And yet Tom is still grieving and puts up with it all. He sees traces of Guillaume within Francis, and Francis seems to see something within Tom, creating a sexual tension between the two.
Tom finds himself deeply moved after helping out Francis with birthing a calf and finds the farm life rather intriguing. At one point Tom packs up ready to leave, only to find that Francis has sabotaged his car, preventing him from going anywhere. And yet Tom doesn’t seem to be all that upset. But it’s not until later when he learns of a truly violent episode in Francis’s past does Tom slowly start to come back to reality.
Tom at the Farm ends up being a pretty decent psychological thriller. In one sense, it leaves some unanswered questions when it’s over, but I also appreciate a film that doesn’t spell everything out and tie up all the loose ends. We’re experiencing the film from Tom’s point of view and it’s clear there are family secrets that aren’t fully revealed. At one point, Francis says something which causes his mother to strike him in the face. Is this indicative of childhood abuse and a source of Francis’s violent tendencies? And while Francis is determined to keep his mother in the dark about her dead son’s sexuality, it’s also clear she probably just lives in full denial and maybe has suspected all along. At the end of the film as Francis is having a breakdown, he’s shown to be wearing a jacket with USA on the back of it. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a bit of intended social commentary. Either way, this is a film that’s worth seeking out.