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Written by Sheila Seacroft   
14 04 2015

ImageDirected by Xavier Dolan

Xavier Dolan is the wunderkind of a flourishing Canadian cinema, with a handful of stunning films already under his belt by the ripe old age of 25. As with his previous features, he's also produced and edited this film. Suitably for a wunderkind, mothers loom large in his work. In both J'ai tué ma mère and the stunning, Hitchcockian, Tom at the Farm (in which he also played the lead role) mothers have represented a powerful and repressive force unable to cope with a son's homosexuality. The Mommy here is a different kettle of fish. Mère terrible to an enfant terrible, the ADHD suffering whirlwind of a son Steve, we feel she, unorthodox herself, would have taken homosexuality in her stride. But it's the violent ungovernability of her son which she finds both attractive and ultimately impossible to live with.

Anne Dorval's Diane is not instantly sympathetic when we meet her. Erratically driving, her speeding causes a minor accident to which she reacts with foul-mouthed abuse, and she looks with her cut-off denim and cigs pretty much like a tramp. But we soon begin to empathise when she arrives at the reform school from which her son is about to be expelled for violent conduct, and what follows is a highly sympathetic portrait of a relationship of subtlety and changing dynamics. Steve the son (Antoine-Olivier Pilon, a Dolan regular and young Jamie Oliver lookalike), is a complex mix of charm, anarchy, and uncontrolled rage, well off the rails since the death of his father many years ago. Naughty Antoine Doinel has nothing on him. Soon a third party enters their world in the shape of their apparently more straightlaced and vulnerable neighbour Kyla (Suzanne Cément), a ‘resting' teacher whose problems have made her psychologically mute, as silent and still as the pair are mouthy and constantly mobile. Unlikely though it seems, once ground rules and respect are established, mainly through Kyla's presence, all three actually find a kind of harmony and things look good in a fragile, unpredictable, turbulent sort of way.

The use of 1:1 ratio film enhances the people-centred tone of the film, a human figure, and in particular a human face, fitting central and inescapable into the screen. And consequentially when the frame at certain points opens out into a more orthodox 1.85:1 it's like a heady liberation. In particular there's a heart-wrenching vision of a beautiful future presented in this way, the arrival of the new wider perspective on the world enhancing its dreamy poignancy. It's a gorgeous film to look at, even the mayhem is beautifully, robustly choreographed, the camera roving round at times as restlessly as the protagonists, and Steve in movement is a hyperactive, graceful angel. At 2 hours 19 minutes it begins to feel long, with many expected conclusions which prove to be otherwise, juddering our emotions along with them. But when it comes the real conclusion is a killer, plunging into despair, yet then somehow suggesting an energy so irrepressible that the future is open to anything.

Seen at Tyneside Cinema Newcastle, March 2015


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