Thursday, February 05, 2015
I Killed My Mother
Written, directed, co-costume designed, and starring Xavier Dolan, J’ai tue ma mere (I Killed My Mother) is the story of a 16-year old boy’s troubled relationship with his mother as he loves and hates her. The film is an exploration into a relationship between a single-divorced mother and her son as it’s told from the perspective of a young man confused by his relationship with his mother as he’s also coping with growing pains. Also starring Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clement, and Francois Arnaud. J’ai tue ma mere is a harrowing yet evocative film from Xavier Dolan.
The film explores a love-hate relationship between a 16-year old boy and his mother in the suburbs near Montreal as their relationship deteriorates in the course of a few months as it would lead to chaos and other things that played into their disintegrating relationship. Much of it is told by Hubert Minel (Xavier Dolan) as he would shoot his own video confessions to express how he loves and hates his mother Chantale Lemming (Anne Dorval) where Hubert wants to please her but also is annoyed by her. It’s a film that may have a simple story but one that is filled with a lot of complexities into a mother-son relationship as it raises questions into whether Hubert is the wild one as he’s always angry while Chantale is aloof at times where she’s often distracted by her own needs as she also changes her mind frequently. It adds to this relationship that is very tumultuous as Xavier Dolan expresses a young man’s growing frustration but also a woman feeling unappreciated and detached from her son.
Dolan’s screenplay is really more of a character study rather than a traditional script that follows this young man’s relationship with his mother. Especially as Hubert is also gay as he’s in a relationship with his classmate Antonin (Francois Arnaud) as Antonin’s mother Helene (Patricia Tulasne) is open about it but Chantale knows nothing about Hubert’s relationship with Antonin. When Chantale does find out, it adds to the already growing tension where her anger and strange actions would lead to Hubert seeking refuge at the home of his teacher Julie Cloutier (Suzanne Clement) who is concerned about Hubert’s well-being as she also notices his gift as a writer and painter. It’s something that Chantale doesn’t really know about as things do get more complicated when Hubert’s estranged father Richard (Pierre Chagnon) appears with some news that only increased Hubert’s hatred towards his mother.
The film’s second half does change a bit once Hubert is put into a different situation and into a different world as it plays into more of Hubert’s own melancholia as well as trying to figure when he and his mother were happy. It also forces him to reflect on who he is and why he is always causing trouble as the third act also plays into Chantale’s own realization about her role as a mother.
Dolan’s direction is quite mesmerizing as it has something that has a cinema verite style in its digital video look but it’s also quite rich in the way it conveys a sense of fantasy in Hubert’s desire for a good relationship with his mother. There’s also elements that feels real in the way Dolan uses hand-held cameras while shooting in black-and-white for his confessional scenes that are very intimate with its usage of close-ups and extreme close-ups. There’s also some 8mm footage that is shown to convey the happier times between a young Hubert and Chantale as it represents what their relationship once was as opposed to the sense of tension and turmoil that looms in their present relationship. Even as Dolan frames his characters in unique positions through medium and wide shots to play into that growing tension.
The approach to framing and how Dolan creates a lot of these mesmerizing images along with stylish insert montages add to the beauty of the film. Especially as these montages play into Hubert’s own fantasy and views about what he thinks about his mother and himself. Dolan’s usage of blurs and slow-motions for some scenes at night as well as some of the film’s emotional moments showcases Hubert’s rage. The third act definitely plays to that sense of breakdown in their relationship where both Hubert and Chantale are lost as they’re trying to understand each other from afar. Even as there’s a very chilling moment involving Chantale about her role as a mother which is a very intense moment in the film. Overall, Dolan creates a very eerie but enthralling film about a complex and tumultuous relationship between a son and his mother.
Cinematographers Stephanie Weber Biron and Nicolas Canniccioni do amazing work with the film‘s cinematography with its rich yet low-key look for many of the film‘s nighttime exterior scenes along with unique lighting for the interior scenes along with some gorgeous look in the daytime interior/exterior scenes. Editor Helene Girard does brilliant work with the editing with its very stylish approach to jump-cuts, slow-motion cuts, fast-cuts, and montages as it adds to the film‘s very offbeat tone. Set decorator Anette Belley does excellent work with the look of the home that Hubert and Chantale live in as well as Antonin’s home and how it plays into the personality of those characters.
Co-costume designer Nicole Petellier, along with Dolan, does fantastic work with the costumes from the stylish yet casual look of Hubert to the clothes that Chantale wears as it crosses the line between tacky and revolting which plays to the film‘s offbeat look and style. Visual effects supervisor Martin Lipmann does nice work with some of the film‘s minimal visual effects as it plays to a few of the fantasy sequences in the film. Sound designer Sylvain Brassard does excellent work with the sound to convey some of the sparse moments in Hubert and Chantale‘s home as well as some of the scenes that occur in the places the characters go to. The film’s music by Nicholas Savard-L’Herbier is wonderful as it’s also quite sparse in its melancholic tone with its piano-based score while the soundtrack is a mixture of classical, pop, and electronic music.
The film’s superb cast features notable small roles from Benoit Gouin as a school principal who talks to Chantale late in the film, Monique Spaziani as Chantale’s friend Denise, Patricia Tulasne as Antonin’s mother, Niels Schneider as a classmate Hubert meets in the film’s third act, and Pierre Chagnon as Hubert’s estranged father who appears to confront him with his mother in a very intense scene. Francois Arnaud is terrific as Hubert’s boyfriend Antonin who copes with Hubert’s mood as well as trying to help him as he wonders how much trouble he could get into. Suzanne Clement is fantastic as Hubert’s teacher who is amazed by his artistic talents as well as sympathetic over his unhappy home.
Anne Dorval is phenomenal as Chantale as this woman who is eager to reclaim aspects of her youth while dealing with Hubert’s many moods and the secrets that she doesn’t know about him as it’s a very intense and complex performance from the actress. Finally, there’s Xavier Dolan in a remarkable performance as Hubert as this angry young teenager who copes with his mother’s frequent forgetfulness and the sense of neglect as he acts out while displaying a sensitivity and torment that most teenagers go through in unhappy homes.
J’ai tue ma mere is an incredible film from Xavier Dolan that features powerful performances from Dolan and Anne Dorval. The film is definitely a very stylish but engaging tale about a young man’s troubled and complicated relationship with his mother. Especially as Dolan pulls no punches in creating characters who are very dysfunctional and maybe don’t have the tools to be mothers and sons. In the end, J’ai tue ma mere is a sensational film from Xavier Dolan.
Xavier Dolan Films: Heartbeats - Laurence Anyways - Tom at the Farm - Mommy - (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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