“Tom at the Farm,” the fourth film from the 26-year-old French Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan, is a teasing exercise in unfettered narcissism that sticks its out tongue out and goes, “Nyah, nyah, nyah” as if it were a 5-year-old running wild on a sugar high. I should add that the movie, completed in 2013 and just now being released, is wildly entertaining, sexy and beautifully shot in the Canadian heartland.
Mr. Dolan, with tousled bleached blond hair and a saucy pout, is front and center as Tom, a pretty young man who drives from Montreal to attend the funeral of his boyfriend, Guillaume, in the Canadian equivalent of the Bible Belt. Throughout the movie, shot by André Turpin, Mr. Dolan uses the camera for unabashed self-adoration.
From the outset, “Tom at the Farm” is slathered in a feverish hyper-romantic orchestral score by Gabriel Yared (“The English Patient”) that incorporates a fragment of Arnold Schoenberg’s early pre-12-tone masterwork, “Verklärte Nacht.” Written when the composer was roughly the same as age as Mr. Dolan, it expresses a boundless intensity that matches the sensibility of a filmmaker who fearlessly embraces extremes. The movie’s musical bookends are the ultraromantic “The Windmills of Your Mind” (sung in French) and Rufus Wainwright’s “Going to a Town,” which asks, “Do you really think you go to hell for having loved?”
Tom’s destination is the dairy farm where Guillaume grew up and where his mother, Agathe (Lise Roy), lives with Guillaume’s older brother, Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal). How and why Guillaume died, at 25, is never explained, but we learn late in the movie that he was a wild creature who slept with everybody.
What unfolds on the farm is a kinky, suspenseful, psychosexual drama that suggests a hybrid of Harold Pinter and Sam Shepard joined to a sadomasochistic fantasy in which the hunky, homophobic Francis plays sexy mind games with Tom, who becomes his willing captive. He even allows Francis to beat him up.
Francis is desperate to keep Agathe from finding out that her golden younger son was gay. Francis has convinced Agathe that a friend of Guillaume, Sara, was the love of his life and was devastated by his death. Agathe then wonders bitterly why she didn’t come to the funeral. Underneath her air of propriety, Agathe has a pornographic imagination that is revealed in a bizarre conversation in which Tom graphically describes a sexual situation involving Sara, and Agathe roars with laughter about what a “slut” Sara must be.
The core of the movie, adapted from a play by Michel Marc Bouchard, who shares a screenwriting credit with Mr. Dolan, is the relationship between the bullying Francis and the sultry Tom, whom he torments with a heavy undertone of flirtation. Eventually Sara is summoned to the farm by Tom, at which point the movie loses some coherence. As Tom, Francis, and Sara (Évelyne Brochu) dance around one another, you expect them to form a diabolical Pinteresque triangle, but her arrival comes too late in the movie for it to amount to much. When Francis orders her around with the same tone of brusque authority that he uses to coerce Tom, she will have none of it.
The screenplay idly plays with the concept of stolen identity when Tom dresses in Francis’s clothes, and you half-expect the movie to turn into a latter-day “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” For at heart, “Tom at the Farm” is a dark comedy about playing games of dress-up: musical, sexual and directorial.
The most telling repeated gesture of humiliation and arousal is a light slap across the face. Francis applies it to Tom, and Agathe to Francis, and Mr. Dolan to us.
A film review on Friday about “Tom at the Farm” misidentified the dead man who “was a wild creature who slept with everybody.” He is Guillaume, not Tom.