VENICE (AFP) – Young Quebec director and actor Xavier Dolan moved Venice on Monday with "Tom on the Farm," a clever psychological thriller which he told AFP was "a love story between city rats and country rats."
The haunting tale of deception, grief and the dark complexities of Stockholm Syndrome, based on a play by Michel Marc Bouchard and in the running for the Venice film festival's Golden Lion award, was lauded by critics for its poetic intensity.
"It's a psychological thriller, but it is also a tale of a lover's loss and a story of love between three individuals, even if the way they live it can seem strange," said Dolan, who has ditched the blond locks he sported in the film.
After his highly acclaimed 2009 debut "I Killed My Mother," 24-year-old Dolan, who cites "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Titanic" among his "fetish films," said he wanted "to try out another genre, another style."
In his latest work, the actor plays a young advertising copywriter in mourning who travels to the countryside to attend his boyfriend's funeral, only to find that no one knew he existed and a girl named Sarah holds his place.
Uneasy, Tom tries repeatedly to leave but is taunted and viciously beaten by his dead lover's tango-dancing brother, played by Pierre-Yves Cardinal.
Slowly, as the days pass, Tom becomes increasingly infatuated with his captor, who smells and talks just like the partner he has lost -- evoking Stockholm Syndrome, the phenomenon in which hostages sometimes develop a strong attachment or even love for their captors.
The grieving mother, played by Lise Roy, meanwhile inches closer to the truth.
"'Tom on the Farm' is a film about the abyss between city and country people, a city rat and a country rat, and the way behaviours change in the different worlds," said Dolan, who has a farm tattoo on his inner forearm.
"I was moved in the play by the mother, drained after the death of her husband, then her son. The crisis of this fragile woman spoke to me," he said, sitting in the sun on a terrace overlooking the sea.
"I grew up in a single-parent family with just my mum and I think I am trying to avenge her through cinema," he added.
Dolan said he hadn't set out to make an explicitly gay-themed film.
"It's not a question of a gay relationship," he said.
Tom and his lover's brother "are wounded beasts who tame each other, and the film shows how two strangers in mourning find ways, violent as they may be, to fill the emptiness of loss."
Asked where he draws his inspiration, Dolan -- who started in the filmmaking industry aged just 18 -- told journalists at a press conference he immerses himself in books of paintings and photography, rather than films.
"I go to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and explore paintings and photos, so that often inspiration starts with more of a mood, an atmosphere."
The soundtrack in "Tom at the Farm" -- written by Gabriel Yared -- was a crucial element, "another character in the film," he said.
"It captures perfectly the thriller nature of the film. I think there are Mahler overtones in the music, and (it) evokes the themes of Luchino Visconti's 1971 'Death in Venice,'" an Italian homage to a gay gaze in the floating city.