Dir. Xavier Dolan
Starring. Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clemént, Antoine Olivier Pilon
Out now on UK DVD from Metrodome Distribution
A straight talking, single mother is reunited with her hyperactive, criminal son after an act of vandalism sees him expelled from a youth correctional facility. Their relationship is pushed to the limits, until a shy, lonely neighbour walks into their lives and the three of them form an unconventional, makeshift family unit.
It’s hard to talk about the career of French-Canadian actor/writer/director/producer Xavier Dolan without mentioning age. An output of 5 films in 5 years-collecting major prizes at the Toronto, Venice and Cannes Film Festivals- would a remarkable feat for any filmmaker, let alone one that, at the time of writing has only recently turned 26. The fact that he is currently rolling cameras on his 6th feature with an ensemble that includes Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassell and Lea Seydoux really tells the tale of how far Dolan has come on since the raw promise of his début I KILLED MY MOTHER.
You don’t recruit such a cast unless you’ve earned the right to do so.
A measure of Dolan’s meteoric rise, was evident in the fact that his fifth feature MOMMY took the Jury Prize at Cannes 2014 -shared with a certain Jean Luc Godard in one of the Croisette’s all time great ‘full circle’ moments. A token gesture this was not, and was a testament to Dolan’s achievement that MOMMY was a genuine contender for the Palm D’Or.
Here, Dolan returns to the Mother and Son dynamic of his début, the difference being here, that there is a tonal conviction and stylistic confidence, both visually and narratively. Where I KILLED MY MOTHER was written very much from the perspective of the son, it is the vividly complex personalities of both Dorval’s Diane and Clement’s Kyla that seem to be more of interest to Dolan here. Both actresses shine in challenging roles. Widowed, free spirit Diane and emotionally starved former-schoolteacher Kyla form a totally believable nuclear family with the unpredictable Steve. Even at its most brash and hysterical, MOMMY is first and foremost an actors film and you would be hard pressed to find a better ensemble. Their chemistry is pivotal to preventing the story from falling into soap opera territory, something which, despite running close, thankfully stays on the right track.
Not to say that MOMMY isn’t without flaws. There are a few exchanges between Diane and Steve that border on contrivance, namely the violent exchange during the middle act (featured on the poster), and it’s a personal cinematic bugbear when popular songs seem shoehorned into a film soundtrack. The ‘Wonderwall’ sequence was a bit too 90’s teen movie for my taste. As was the use of Lana Del Rey’s ‘Born To Die’ in the final reel.
That being said, the film is visually very self assured. There are minor Bressonian touches (overly intimate close ups) that really show the confidence that Dolan is directing with. The way he toys with the screen’s aspect ratio, beginning with a claustrophobically narrow, almost portrait/mobile phone framing to Steve pushing the frame wide, exuding freedom, is an audacious stylistic choice for even the most veteran of directors. There’s brilliant tension to the pacing of the film, shown in the stand out scene in the blue neon lit karaoke bar, as Steve’s melancholic performance is brilliantly edited to show him losing his cool, under pressure from hecklers and his mother’s distraction to his sadness. One of the year’s best musical sequences.
MOMMY is hands down one of the year’s best family dramas and you get the feeling that this is merely the tip of the iceberg for one of world cinema’s most talented young filmmakers.