I Killed My Mother

 Regent

 (J'ai tué ma mere)
 
Canada (French speaking) 
 
Canadian Xavier Dolan’s bold feature directing debut, “I Killed My Mother,” world premiered at the 2009 Cannes Film Fest (in the Directors Fortnight series) to critical acclaim. Montreal-based Dolan, only 20, wrote, helmed and stars in in a semi-autobiographical tale of a gay adolescent coming of age.
 
Showing powerfully raw, if undisciplined talent, this audacious movie won three prizes in the 2009 Cannes Film Fest: the Art Cinema Award, the Regards Jeunes and the SACD Prize.  After playing at the Toronto Film Fest, it will get theatrical release in the U.S. by Regent Films.
 
Dolan’s Hubert, a seemingly cool and composed teenager of 16 who sports a Tears for Fears hairdo, endlessly argues with his mom Chantale (Anne Dorval) about all issues, trivial as well as serious, in a mode that could be described as both hilariously funny and terrifying.  The incessant arguments essentially reflect the profound pain and angst that both Hubert and his mother go through, albeit for different reasons.
 
Characterized by a refined sense of aesthetics, Hubert is appalled by his mother's style, the plastic on the furniture, her regular tanning sessions, her wardrobe, the way she eats.   In his view, this monstrous creature represents the kind of kitsch and crass that offends his eyes and ears, and yet he loves her–in his own way.
 
The duo has a bizarre, love-hate, bipolar relationship, at once intimate and distant.  Hubert is not open with his mother about his personal sex life, the fact that he has already a boyfriend named Antonin Rimbaud (Francois Arnaux), one of his classmates.
 
The scene in which Hubert makes love to Antonin is depicted in graphic detail, which, along with a brutal gay-bashing act, in which hoodlums on the street beat Hubert, may serve as added elements in marketing the film for specifically gay audiences. 
 
The truth about Hubert’s homosexuality comes to Chantale via Antonin’s more refined and sympathetic mother, Helene (Patricia Tulasne), and the movie contrasts the two mothers, both single, and their different style of parenting.  Understanding and liberal, Helene is everything and anything that Chantale is not.  She is not bashful to be seen with her naked lover, nor does she mind that her son and Hubert smoke dope, get high, listen to music instead of doing homework, and spend the night together in her home.
  
Domestic scenes alternate with classroom ones, where Hubert is seen taking courses in literature and painting.  Early on, when Hubert’s teacher asks the students to write an essay about their mothers, Hubert can't bring himself to even acknowledge that he has one, instead reporting that that his mother had died, thus burying her in his imagination.
 
The frequent outbursts and fights, often taking place in the confined space of Chantale's car, while taking Hubert to school, escalate to such an unbearable extent that Chantale decides to send Hubert to a weekday boarding school.  Upset and disgusted by the idea, Hubert has no choice; Chantale had convinced her ex-husband that such a change is in their boy’s best interests. But this move has disastrous effects on Hubert and leads to an ultimate standoff between mother and son.
 
Despite the fact that the father deserted the family when Hubert was 7, the boy still likes him, even idealizes him—until he gets to know his true face during a visit to his home. We get the impression that he blames his mom for the divorce. perhaps a result of differences in social class. (There are only two scenes with Hubert's dad, so it's hard to tell).
 
Dolan and Dorval are extremely good in playing their demanding parts, particularly the vicious confrontations, which often begin (or end) with declarations of love and manifestations of intimacy. It's established that Chantale's mother is mentally ill, and Hubert accuses her of suffering from Alzheimer's and other maladies. 
 
Opinions will differ, but though the movie tries to be nonjudgmental, young viewers may perceive it as evoking greater empathy and sympathy for Hubert than for Chantale. In many of her scenes, she comes across as a typical single mom of the lower-middle class, struggling to raise a troubled boy on her own, while gainfully employed as a secretary in an accounting firm.
 
As helmer, boasting stylistic flourishes, Dolan had clearly set out to make a splashy and bold debut that will put him on the map of directors to watch. The narrative contains references to literary figures (including two seminal poets and writers, Antonin Artaud and Arthur Rimbuad), mega black-and-white close-ups of Hubert's face for the more personal and confessional scenes, colorful flashbacks of a happier childhood when the whole family lived in the country.
 
Judging from the critical reaction in Cannes, “I Killed My Mother” should evoke lively conversations about mother-son relationships and should play well in an outside gay film festivals and gay venues for it's as much a coming-of-age as a coming-out saga. 
 
About the Director
 
Xavier Dolan was born in Montreal and began acting in commercials as a young boy of four. He has performed in the films “J'en suis!” (1997), “Le Marchand de sable” (1999), “La Forteresse suspendue” (2001) and “Martyrs” (2008).
 
Cast:
 
Anne Dorval
Xavier Dolan
Suzanne Clément
François Arnaud,
Patricia Tulasne
 
Credits
 
Production Company: Mifilifilms Inc.
Executive Producer: Xavier Dolan
Producer: Carole Mondello, Daniel Morin
Screenplay: Xavier Dolan
Cinematographer: Stéphanie Weber-Biron
Editor: Hélène Girard
Production Designer: Anette Belley
Sound: Sylvain Brassard
Music: Nicholas S. L'Herbier
 
Running Time: 96 Minutes