Thursday, May 21, 2015
2015 Cannes Marathon: Mommy (2014 film)
(Co-Winner of the Jury Prize w/ Goodbye to Language at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival)
Written, edited, costume designed, and directed by Xavier Dolan, Mommy is the story of a widow who is trying to raise her teenage son as she seeks the help from her neighbor where things improve but only for a brief moment. The film is an examination into a relationship between a mother and her teenage son who is very outgoing and rebellious. Starring Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, and Suzanne Clement. Mommy is an astonishing yet intense film from Xavier Dolan.
The film revolves around a widowed mother who is trying her best to raise her ADHD son who is known for being violent and very troubled as they move in to a new place where they get the help of a neighbor who would bring the best in both of them. It’s a film that isn’t just an exploration into a troubled relationship between a mother and her teenage son but also a film that plays into a mother trying to get her own life but also wonder if there’s hope for her son. The film also plays into their situation as it relates to a fictionalized law that would play into what Diane “Die” Despres (Anne Dorval) would have to do for her son Steve (Antoine Oliver-Pilon).
Xavier Dolan’s screenplay doesn’t exactly follow a traditional structure as it is very loose with its narrative as it is more of a character study between Die and Steve’s relationship. Die is a woman that is still trying to hold on to her youth through the clothes she wears as the film begins with her in an accident where she loses her car and is in even worse debt. Adding to the chaos is Steve who has been kicked out of an institution over an incident that he caused that would later haunt both of them as mother and son are forced to start over. In this quiet suburb where the uncontrollable Steve and the overwhelmed Die live, they meet a new neighbor in Kyla (Suzanne Clement) who is a schoolteacher on break as she also has a terrible stutter. Kyla’s presence not only makes things easier but also add a new dynamic to the family as she would be Steve’s teacher and be able to control him while Die would work.
The relationship of the two women and a teenage boy would be an intriguing one as Kyla is someone that is in need to feel alive again even though she has a family. Yet, she remains haunted by something in her family life that doesn’t allow her to connect with her family as the presence of Die and Steve would help her. Die would feel easy with Kyla around to watch over Steve as it would give her the chance to find some work as well as live her own life. Yet, one notable flaw about Die is that she can be irresponsible and selfish as she is also trying to be young. For Steve, he is someone that is very troubled as it is clear that not having a father has affected him to the point where he’s acting out. Yet, he’s not really a bad kid but someone that is in need of attention as there’s a key scene in its third act where Steve is pushed to the edge as he is just trying to do something fun without harming anyone. Yet, it’s a moment that would force Die to ponder not just her own future but also Steve’s future if is ever going to have one.
Dolan’s direction is very unique not just for the intimacy that he creates but also in the aspect ratio in which he would create for this film. Shot in a 1:1 aspect ratio which is similar to what is often presented in cell phone video cameras through social media. It’s a format that is very entrancing on a visual scale where it does a lot to bring a lot of coverage to some of the film’s close-ups and medium shots. It’s also used a visual tool to display some of the emotional moments as it relates to Die and Steve’s relationship. Even as it has something that feels very claustrophobic in its framing where it plays into something that is unsettling and also scary due to some of Steve’s violent outbursts. Most notably a scene where he buys his mother groceries and a gift as Die is convinced that he stole those things as the two have a fight.
There’s a couple moments in the film where the film is presented in a traditional widescreen format as it plays into not just the happy moments involving Die, Steve, and Kyla but also in a sequence as it plays into what Die hopes for Steve to have in the future. The frame would open and close in these moments as it would intensify by the film’s third act as it relates to not just an incident that Steve caused early in the film but also the pressure for Die to make sure that her son doesn’t get into serious trouble. Also serving as the film’s editor and costume designer, Dolan maintains that sense of energy as it relates to Steve where he does use some fast-cuts but also knows when to slow things down as he does put in a lot style into the editing. As for the costumes, it also adds to the film’s visual tone as it shows who these people are where both Die and Steve are eager to look and feel young while Kyla is more conservative to play into her shy personality.
Still, Dolan maintains something is lively but also wondrous as it plays into this turbulent and complicated relationship between a mother and son as well as this outsider who tries to bring the best in both of them. Even as someone like Die is trying to balance what she wants in her own life and the hope that she has for her son while knowing that if things don’t go her own way. There is this law Overall, Dolan crafts a very chilling yet exhilarating film about a mother trying to help and ground her already troubled son.
Cinematographer Andre Turpin does amazing work with the film‘s cinematography to play up the film‘s very colorful and entrancing look from its locations in Quebec to the usage of lights for some of the film‘s interior settings. Art director Colombe Ray and set decorator Jean-Charles Claveau do fantastic work with the look of Die and Steve‘s home which is a bit of mess as it plays into their turbulent relationship. Makeup designer Maina Militza does nice work with the look of Die’s hair and some of the makeup she wears to look young. Sound designer Sylvain Brassard does brilliant work with the sound to capture some of the chaotic moments that occur in the drama along with some of the livelier moments in the film. The film’s music by Noia is excellent for its somber yet enchanting ambient score that plays into the drama while the soundtrack features a diverse array of music from Sarah McLachlan, Celine Dion, Dido, Counting Crows, Beck, Lana Del Rey, Andrea Bocelli, Simple Plan, Oasis, and many others as it’s one of the film’s highlights.
The film’s cast includes some notable small roles from Michele Lituac as the institution chief who would release Steve to his mother, Isabelle Nelisse as Kyla’s daughter, Patrick Huard as an attorney Die would go out with in the film’s third act, and Alexandre Goyette as Kyla’s husband Patrick who would watch some of Kyla’s time with Die and Steve from afar. Suzanne Clement is incredible as Kyla as this woman with a stutter who befriends Die and Steve as she would bring a great sense of balance into their lives as well as being able to defuse some of the tension as it’s a very understated yet intoxicating performance.
Antoine-Olivier Pilon is remarkable as Steve as a young, hyperactive teenager who is trying to please his mother while being very violent and troubled as it’s a performance that is quite complex as he brings a lot of layers to his character. Finally, there’s Anne Dorval in a phenomenal performance as Die as this woman that is trying to retain her youth as well as be a responsible mother where Dorval brings a sense of charm and energy to her performance as she also be just as intense as Pilon as it is really one hell of a performance.
Mommy is a magnificent film from Xavier Dolan that features top-notch performances from Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, and Suzanne Clement. The film isn’t just one of Dolan’s more accessible features but also an engaging story about a tumultuous yet wild relationship between a mother and her son. Even as it manages to be told with such style as well as not being afraid of making the audience feel very uncomfortable. In the end, Mommy is an outstanding film from Xavier Dolan.
Xavier Dolan Films: I Killed My Mother - Heartbeats - Laurence Anyways - Tom at the Farm - (It's Only the End of the World) - (The Death and Life of John F. Donovan) - The Auteurs #46: Xavier Dolan
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