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Originally published Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 3:00 PM

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Movie review

'Heartbeats': Youth, love, rivalry locked in a three-way dance

A review of Xavier Dolan's film "Heartbeats," a remarkably deft depiction of youthful longing by a youthful writer/director.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'Heartbeats,' with Xavier Dolan, Monia Chokri, Niels Schneider. Written and directed by Dolan. 95 minutes. In French with English subtitles. Not rated; for mature audiences. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.

A sly tale of romantic obsession among a trio of 20-somethings, Xavier Dolan's "Heartbeats" is a pretty decent film in its own right, and a remarkably good one if you consider the filmmaker turns 22 this month.

Though young, the French-Canadian writer/director clearly understands a few things about longing, and his film is a delicate depiction of the stages of a crush: preening, desire, scheming, buying Audrey Hepburn-themed gifts in a desperate attempt for attention and, ultimately, despair.

Francis (played by Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri) are a pair of trendy best friends living in Montreal, awash in vintage clothing, self-conscious smoking and cynicism — until they meet the exquisite Nicolas (Niels Schneider), with his halo of blond curls and his way of entering a room as if hearing applause.

Both immediately fall for him, madly and deeply, and soon we're seeing Marie elaborately dressing for what she hopes will be a date with Nicolas, Francis "just happening" to show up on the street where Nicolas lives and both of them starting to gaze in resentment at the other — a friend now turned competitor.

Little is said but much is shown, particularly in the way Marie's eyes (which shine when she's near Nicolas as if she's suddenly lit up from within) turn cold and her smile turns tight-lipped when she realizes her "date" will have company.

Dolan relies a little heavily on pop music and slow-motion camera work (at times it feels as if the movie would be half as long without it) and keeps interrupting the story with some "Sex and the City"-ish monologues about love from people we don't know, which isn't especially compelling.

But when "Heartbeats" focuses on its central trio and its unusual, doomed love triangle, it's often mesmerizing as a three-way dance, with a tense, constant change of partners. By its end, we see more potential partners on the horizon; these dancers are young, and the band plays on.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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