I was so completely flabbergasted by Xavier Dolan’s Mommy that I am at a loss for words. The 25-year-old Québec director’s film was the talk of the Cannes Film Festival last summer, where it won the coveted Jury Prize. We meet Diane «Die» (Anne Dorval), the widowed mother of Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon), a teenager with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Diane is unable to take care of Steve (heck, she’s barely able to take care of herself), yet unable to find a place that will keep him. He started a fire at the last centre, and caused physical damage to another inmate. Steve is unpredictably violent, and also shows love for his mom with great fanfare and excess. Everything is excessive with Steve. Mommy is a roller coaster of unabashed sentiments that unapologetically assaults us with a constant barrage of screaming, loud music, swearing (a mix of Québécois French (AKA “joual”) and English) and emotions. Mommy is a masterpiece of raw emotions. Diane does not have what it takes to deal with her son’s problems. She sometimes is the victim of his sudden violent outburst. Enter neighbour Kyla (Suzanne Clément), a stay at home wife and mother with a stuttering problem. Kyla becomes friends with both Diane and Steve, helping Steve with his studies and being a nice, warm, calming presence. They are inseparable. Anne Dorval, one of the best actress in Québec, played the overbearing mother in Dolan’s J’ai tué ma mère. Diane is, like her son, always living on the edge, about to burst anytime with the foul language. In this amazing performance, Dorval plays a mom like I have rarely seen on films. And what can I say about teenage actor Antoine Olivier Pilon (16-year-old while filming) ? Looking like an angel with his beautiful blond hair, he is perfect to play a little demon. If it was only a weird casting choice, it would still be fine. But Pilon has got the acting shops to carry that difficult, demanding part. And then some more. Because of Steve’s mental disorder, it is Pilon’s energy that drives Mommy. And in every scenes, Dorval, Pilon and Clément act in perfect synchronicity. Just as Die and Steve need Kyla, we too need Suzanne Clément (another well-regarded Québec actress). We need respite from all the hysteria. But Clément’s Kyla seems to be more distraught than her two friends, and she too finds a kind of calm and happiness with them. All that great acting, of course the screenplay, the energetic frenzy, the cacophony is all Dolan’s work. And an unusual choice of framing. The 1:1 aspect ratio frame is actually a rectangle screen (almost as if you were looking at a photo on your cell phone or blackberry). With that ratio Dolan focus on what is most important in the film, little things like people, faces and emotions. And with that gutsy choice Xavier Dolan also redefine the way films are made. Did I tell you that Mommy is a masterpiece?

Rémi-Serge Gratton




Directed by: 
Xavier Dolan
Screenplay by: 
Xavier Dolan
Anne Dorval
Antoine Olivier Pilon
Suzanne Clément
Patrick Huard
139 min.
Rated 14A
 In French with English subtitles.

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