About midway through Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, all you want is for “Die” to catch a break. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way and Dolan totally gets that. When you see Mommy for yourself, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Mommy is a heartbreaking reality for some single mother out there and that’s arguably what makes this such a compelling film. At only 25, Dolan has crafted a gripping story exploring the not-so-heartwarming sides of motherhood.
The film begins when Dolan invites us into the life of widowed Diane “Die” Després (Anne Dorval) as it’s already unwinding and spiraling downhill. She’s sharp-tongued, often scantily dressed, and struggling to make ends meet, but still not as off-putting as you’d think – even after you hear the slew of obscenities that fly from her mouth over the course of two hours. Soon after, we meet her troubled and violent son, 15-year-old Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), who suffers from ADHD, attachment disorder and also throws frequent tantrums. Die refuses to give up on her son, taking him back into her home after he’s been kicked out of a detention center for his erratic behavior. But as the film unfolds, the question of whether Steve is too much for Die to handle begins to nag not just her, but the audience as well. And just when you finally decide it is too much to handle, after you’ve cringed at their screaming matches and unconventional mother-son conversations, curious and mysterious neighbor, Kyla (Suzanne Clément), who struggles with communicating due to some unknown trauma we assume occurred during her time as a teacher, steps in and lends a helping hand with the problem child. The three form a family-like bond that is probably the best thing going in each of their lives. We see the various sides of each character carefully unfold before the camera – Dolan does an excellent job of showing who these people are and he does so patiently. Some argue the film may be about 30 minutes or so longer than necessary, which is understandable, but those moments Dolan spends extra time on are dramatic, telling and cinematically beautiful.
Shot in a 1:1 aspect ratio (a perfect square), the film delivers a personable feel, and manifests an undeniably intimate and honest portrayal of each of the characters when it’s their turn to be “boxed” in. Of course, credit is due to Dorval, Clément and Pilon, who all deliver powerful performances in each of their roles. Pilon’s convincing performance was especially gripping as he managed to build a love-hate relationship with the audience. As you witness his violent outbursts, you can’t help but to offer up sympathy, because as “Die” expresses throughout the film, he does seem to be a good kid at heart with golden intentions. That’s what gives the film its realistic edge – characters so transparent, raw, and honest that you can’t help but to think of a kid you know, a mother you know, or a neighbor you know, who have lived in these experiences or similar experiences. It’s even a bit uncomfortable at times.
So, back to my first observation – that Xavier Dolan totally gets it. You could argue that he’s lived parts of this film, just as he admitted he’s lived parts of his debut feature I Killed My Mother (which shares many themes with Mommy). His ability to make Diane’s experience feel so real to the audience is probably what stood out the most. There’s a big chance you may feel for these characters because they are, in fact, ordinary – so ordinary, that they’ll feel real to you. I found myself wondering what would become of their lives after the credits rolled. And then I left the theater trying to figure out how I felt about everything I had just watched.
Mommy has received much praise since its premiere. The film won the Jury Prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and a Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association Award for Foreign Language Film of the Year. Mommy may still be collecting awards – the film has been nominated for over 10 Canadian Screen Awards.
Mommy opens today in Austin.
What makes a film – the feeling or the story?
film, Canada, movies, G Style, ADHD, violence, beauty, struggle, honesty
Showing at Regal Cinemas Arbor 8 Cinema at Great Hills Movie Theater