Mommy: Xavier Dolan’s Film is Canada’s Oscar Entry

mommy_2Canada’s enfant terrible, Xavier Dolan, who is only 25, makes a strong leap forward as writer and director of his fourth feature, “Mommy,” which world premiered at the 2014 Cannes Film Fest (In Competition).

Mommy,” which won a major jury prize, is thematically linked to Dolan’s first film, “J’Ai Tué Ma Mère” (“I Killed My Mother”) of 2009.  Both deal with complex, troubled and emotionally powerful relationships between mothers and sons.  The two films (the best of the four that Zavier has directed) are companion pieces, though “Mommy” is a more restrained and mature work.

mommy_4Zavier has decided to reverse the POV: If “I Killed My Mother” told the story of an adolescent from his subjective perspective, “Mommy” puts a single mother at the center, describing all the events (joys and sorrows) of living with a teenage son who’s diagnosed with ADHD from her untenable position.

In some moments, “Mommy” is an uproariously dark comedy, in others, it is a tragic drama based on a non-win situation.  On a more serious level, the narrative is defined by the central dilemma of whether or not to institutionalize a teenage son in an official correctional facility, removed from his loving mother and supervised by the state.

Unconditional love, by both mother and son. is not the issue of “Mommy”; daily life with a semblance of “normal” and orderly co-existence is.

mommy_3The screen’s aspect ratio, rather unusually, is reduced to what it used to be back then, reinforcing the confined space that the characters occupy, not to mention their limited POV.

Anne Dorval plays Diane, a young, recent widow (her husband died three years ago), who struggled to make ends meet by working blue-collar jobs, including housekeeper and cleaner.  Still attractive, she is feisty, sexy, and dresses like women half her age.

Diane communicates with her teenage son Steve, who has ADHD, like a sister, which at times facilitates the interaction with her unstable son, and at times, works against it.  There are no boundaries, no norms to regulate their conduct, and Steve takes full advantage of it, endlessly swearing, fighting for no apparent reason, touching women in inappropriate places. Yet when he is calm, which is rare, he can be sensitive, intelligent and considerate of his mom’s needs.

When the tale begins Steve has just been discharged from yet another hospital, leaving the burden of raising him entirely in Diane’s hands.

mommy_1Unfolding as a chamber piece for two, such erratic and necessarily repetitive narrative cannot be effective, if it’s not cast with two strong and powerful actors.  Matching Anne, Antoine Olivier Pilon’s gives a multi-shaded, completely credible performance, which at times is funny and hilarious and at other sad and heartbreaking

The dynamics of their situation changes after meeting their lonely neighbor, Kyla (Suzanne Clément), a shy schoolteacher recovering from nervous breakdown, which had caused her to stammer.  Kyla shows instant rapport with Steve, and their evolving friendship seems to benefit both of them.  She helps Steve with his schoolwork and leisure activity, and he seems to put her at ease, reducing her speech problems.

Dolan’s transgressive approach to his narrative is manifest in trashy humor, direct and foul lingo (seldom heard in American family melodramas), and some sexual undercurrent that are both expected and unexpected.