Arts Review, Movies


Mommy featured image

Xavier Dolan, director and script
Starring: Anne Dorval (Diane “Die” Despres), Antoine-Olivier Pilon (Steve Despres), Suzanne Clement (Kyla), Alexandre Goyette (Patrick), Patrick Huard (Paul Beliveau)

Xavier Dolan drives me crazy. I’m a huge supporter of Canadian cinema—and that includes Quebec in my estimation. For the vast majority of critics, Dolan is the first major directorial talent to emerge in years, and deserves massive acclaim.

His first film J’ai tué ma mere won 28 prizes including four at Cannes. He was 20 at the time and was immediately a global phenomenon as a director, writer and actor. It’s no exaggeration to call him “Quebec’s Orson Welles.”

So when a new film by Dolan premieres at Cannes, you can expect big things. Mommy, his latest, won the Jury Prize at Cannes and received an ovation that lasted over ten minutes. Once again, he’s chosen Anne Dorval as his lead and as she’s as brilliant as the sexy, angry mother in Mommy as she was playing a slightly different mother in J’ai tué ma mere. Antoine-Olivier Pilon as her emotionally disturbed son Steve and Suzanne Clement as the godsend next-door neighbour Kyla support her ably.

The film is an emotional ménage a trois though nothing sexual happens between the three beyond a glaringly obvious subtext. (Other critics have labeled Mommy an Oedipal fantasy). The story is easy to tell. Die Depres (Dolan), a “low-life” and quite good-looking mother, has to raise her extremely angry and violent son Steve by herself after her husband dies. Exiled from the middle class by her husband’s demise and forced to be the caregiver for a distraught son, Die finds her only support in Kyla, a former teacher and the fortuitous next-door neighbour. The film is set in a future in which parents can give up their disturbed kids to the state, so the question arises: should Steve be put away?

Here’s my problem with Dolan. I find that the emotional thermometre and sound metre on this film to be beyond fever pitch. Every scene is huge. Steve’s anger is operatic and Die’s outbursts seem to match Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy. Nothing is explained. Why does Kyla love them so much? What is wrong with her husband who acts scary but always seems to do the right thing off-camera?

I harbour a deep distrust of Dolan. In a word, is he a phony? Does he genuinely care about his characters or does he think—genius that he is—that he can make audiences love people that he created but regards with disdain?

I can guarantee that Mommy isn’t boring. And it’s the Canadian nominee for the Academy Award. Who knows? In Ringo’s immortal cadence, “he might win an Oscar/you can never tell.”

So I guess you should see it. Let’s support Canadian culture, shall we? And maybe I’m wrong.

Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical 96.3 FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus

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