REVIEW: Mommy

30 08 2014

mommyTelluride Film Festival

Fascination with portraying a particular kind of relationship on screen is not necessarily a bad thing – just look at how many compelling films Martin Scorsese has turned out about fathers and sons.  When that fascination turns to fixation, though, further exploration can just wind up being counterproductive.

That’s the case with wunderkind Xavier Dolan, releasing his fifth feature film “Mommy” at the ripe old age of 25.  It’s certainly an accomplished work with plenty to laud: namely, Dolan’s mastery of music and montage.  To those unfamiliar with his work, the film may come across quite unique and fresh.

Yet dig back into Dolan’s filmography to find his debut feature, “I Killed My Mother,” which is essentially the same film as “Mommy.”  Both put a dysfunctional mother-son relationship at their core and takes a look at the way each party drives each other towards insanity.

In “Mommy,” Antoine Olivier Pilon plays a foul-mouthed teen, Steve, who suffers from ADHD and other afflictions.  He clearly tries the patience of his mother, Anne Dorval’s Diane, who’s no angel herself.  Dolan sets their misadventures in an alternative Canadian reality where Diane could have Steve involuntarily committed to a hospital, and it’s clear that easy route is never far out of mind.

“Mommy” also introduces a third character into the mix (“I Killed My Mother” was essentially a two-hander), Suzanne Clement’s friendly neighbor Kyla.  She agrees to help homeschool Steve while his mom is out working, which results in her becoming somewhat like a regular family member.  What exactly Kyla adds to the mix – or what Diane and Steve want to take away from her – is never expressly clear, giving “Mommy” its sole bit of tension.

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (June 27, 2014)

27 06 2014

I Killed My MotherXavier Dolan has had quite a run over the past few years.  This May, the 25-year-old wunderkind not only cracked the official competition slate at Cannes, but also won the Jury Prize.  Just five years ago, his debut feature “I Killed My Mother” announced his arrival on the international scene at the Cannes sidebar Director’s Fortnight.

Thought it took that film a whopping four years to wash up on American shores, it’s an incredibly accomplished first feature with the confidence that it takes many filmmakers years to develop.  “I Killed My Mother” is visually daring, emotionally satisfying, and narratively compelling.  As such, it is my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

Despite what the title might have you think, there is no murder in the film.  That’s not to say, however, that Dolan’s angsty 16-year-old character Hubert doesn’t contemplate offing his mother a great deal.  She pushes his buttons just as he pushes hers, resulting in plenty of bickering and nasty quarrels.

It’s not just a rant against mothers, though.  Dolan’s film contemplates the very root of mother-son tensions, the subject of stories for millennia.  “I Killed My Mother” feels like a courtroom drama at times as we weigh who is culpable for all the drama occurring before our eyes.  The answer isn’t ever entirely clear as we’re presented with a dilemma resembling the chicken-and-egg question.  Which came first?

Anne Dorval, playing the eponymous matriach Chantale, provides the pitch-perfect performance for the inquisitive Dolan.  She channels the essence of the matron nicely in the way she tries to provide tough love for her defiant son.  But as hard as she tries to provide consistent care, she lapses as all humans do.  Dorval’s deeply humane portrait of a woman torn by these two forces makes “I Killed My Mother” all the more fascinating to watch unfold.

While Dorval steals the movie on screen, it’s Dolan who commands it off screen.  His remarkable aesthetic flair mixes various styles of filmmaking deftly, giving “I Killed My Mother” an appropriately fractured feel.  The form matches the content remarkably well, for what better way to tell a story about conflicting feelings than with conflicting methods of presentation?  This has all the makings of a masterful film for any director; it’s merely compounded by the fact that it’s a debut for Dolan, who couldn’t even legally buy alcohol in the United States when he made it.  (He’s Canadian, anyways, so that fact doesn’t really matter.)