By Simon Miraudo
June 13, 2014
Xavier Dolan‘s Mommy has one of the year’s best movie moments. Two even. Maybe three. Look… it’s all great. Those who’ve seen one of the sickeningly-talented 25-year-old filmmaker’s previous works could have predicted that. His camera moves so fluidly, as if in a dream, and here, contained within an Instagrammy aspect ratio of 1:1, he still manages to craft indelible visuals. Is it significantly better than his ménage à trois picture Heartbeats, or the transgender drama Laurence Anyways? Not significantly, simply because they’re already great. What Mommy is, however, is the most accomplished consummation yet of his thematic fascinations, cinematographic realisations, and pop art aspirations, which is a long way of saying it’s f***ing excellent.
Dolan’s fifth effort in as many years sees him reteam with Anne Dorval of his debut I Killed My Mother, casting her once again in a maternal role. This time, as Die, she’s burdened with her reckless teenage son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) after he’s expelled from a group home for burning a child. Die chalks it up to ADHD. If this is ADHD, I’d hate to see what actual psychopathy is like. We’re checking in on this duo after much damage has already been done, and this question lingers over the rest of the feature: Did Steve ruin Die’s life, or was it the other way round? Dorval is frank and fragile and very funny as Die, a glamorous woman living a very unglamorous life. Pilon, a force of nature, is one of those actors who was born to be filmed by Dolan; his impossible hair and adolescent-Adonis looks captured in slow-motion as Steve eagerly shows off his dancing prowess. It helps he’s fearless in the part of this maniacal pit-bull.
Set in a fictional future Québec, we learn in the opening crawl a new law’s been passed in which it’s legal for parents suffering financial or emotional hardship to leave their children in the care of the state. With that said up front, we of course spend the following two hours waiting for Die to unburden herself, marvelling at her patience with Steve’s violent outbursts, uncomfortable sexual advances, and total disregard for remotely acceptable social decorum. This is no inspirational tale, though, and Die is no perfect mother. As the flick rolls along, it soon becomes clear it’s no longer healthy for mother and son to be with one another. And that’s the tragedy of Mommy, a quizzical examination of how someone made from your same material can be such a stranger and too familiar at once.
Dolan loves his threesomes, and this one is rounded out by the tremendous Suzanne Clément, playing Kyla, a stuttering neighbour who home-schools Steve while Die seeks work. The troika finds temporary peace together, somehow being the perfect combination of personality traits to keep Steve at an equilibrium. A goof-off montage that takes ingenious advantage of the aspect ratio and a choice Oasis song provides the first of Mommy‘s memorable moments. The soundtrack is also responsible for the other two. Dolan doesn’t ironically deploy artists like Celine Dion and Dido and Lana Del Rey; he actively understands the candy rush a perfect pop song can inflame. The same goes for the way in which he toys with the frame. You could accuse the 1:1 portraiture as an affectation (Dolan himself claims it reminds him of album covers). I’d say it’s an example of this vital moviemaker knowing precisely how to use all his tools to inspire huge dramatic effect. Trick or not, it works a treat.
Mommy is a beautiful, emotionally-complicated tragicomedy that packs an emotional wallop; awesome to look at and devastating to watch. Dolan isn’t just one of Canada’s finest talents, but the world’s, and this is his finest film to date. If I’m holding back on the hyperbole – which I am, can you believe it? – that’s only because he’s proven there is perhaps no cap to his potential. Imagine the pictures he’ll be making in another five years time.
Mommy plays the Sydney Film Festival June 15, 2014.